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Watertown ice storm cleanup expected to exceed $250,000

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The Dec. 21 ice storm is over, but the cost of cleanup in the city of Watertown is expected to climb to more than $250,000 and could continue through much of this spring’s construction season.

In a Dec. 31 memo to the Watertown City Council, Eugene P. Hayes, superintendent of public works, wrote that it’s costing the city $15,000 a week for DPW crews to concentrate on the massive cleanup efforts.

Council members are expected to discuss the memo when they meet at 7 p.m. tonight in City Hall’s third-floor council chambers.

The Dec. 21 incident “is a lesser magnitude” than ice storms in 1991 and 1998, but the massive ice buildup and frigid temperatures are hindering the cleanup, he said.

Despite requests to do otherwise, many residents have placed tree limbs and debris in snowbanks within the city margins, the area between the street and sidewalk, causing hazardous conditions in many neighborhoods, Mr. Hayes said.

The cleanup also has been difficult for residents to complete on their property, he said.

DPW crews will use heavy equipment over the next two to three weeks to make a single sweep around the city to pick up that debris, he wrote.

“City collection forces are encumbered both by exceedingly slippery and treacherous conditions from the ice pack and also the physical challenge of separating and collecting the tangled debris now frozen into the snow banks,” Mr. Hayes said.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said he was not surprised by the cost projection, noting “it was a harsh storm.”

He also commended DPW’s cleanup strategy.

“There’s a lot of branches just sitting there and not hurting anybody,” he said, so it makes sense to pick them up later.

For the duration, DPW crews also will trim and remove storm damage in city parks and other facilities.

The $250,000 cost does not include final processing and disposal costs and staff overtime, Mr. Hayes said.

It will also be necessary to secure one or two additional brush chipping machines at an estimated rental cost of $1,250 per week per unit.

After the city-wide sweep, DPW crews will solely focus on their typical winter responsibilities of snow removal, salting and plowing, he said.

Once spring weather comes, Mr. Hayes projected it will take between 10 and 12 weeks to go street-by-street to pick up remaining tree debris. The cleanup operation could end up impacting the completion of other DPW projects later in the year, he said.

In other action Monday night, council members will consider a three-year extension with the Watertown Rams to play for the 2014-2016 Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League season. The proposed contract for the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds remains the same for the first year, and a 2 percent increase in fees for the two remaining seasons.

Council members also are expected to discuss the impact of a second full-time Watertown City Court judge will have on the city and City Hall.

Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation that gives the city a second full-time judge. As a result, part-time Judge Catherine J. Palermo will preside over city court on a full-time basis.

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