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Public’s help sought as hydrants remain snowbound across St. Lawrence County

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CANTON — Streets and highways around St. Lawrence County are mostly clear following last week’s snowstorm, but officials in Canton and other communities are still working to dig out fire hydrants, and they’re looking for a helping hand from the public.

“By taking a few minutes to clear the snow from around the hydrant, residents and business owners save the fire department valuable time should the hydrant be needed to fight a fire,” said Canton Fire Chief Robert M. Crowe, whose volunteer firefighters were out on Sunday clearing fireplugs around the village.

Canton has more than 120 hydrants, the chief said, but with DPW crews stretched thin due to holidays and overtime from last week’s storms, they have not been able to clear all of them yet.

“This is probably the most snow we have had in a 24-hour period in many, many years,” Canton Village Administrator Brien E. Hallahan said.

The Christmas week storm dropped 16 or more inches of snow on many parts of the county by the morning of Dec. 27, followed by several more inches last weekend.

Mr. Hallahan said Canton’s crews would not be out on New Year’s Day, when they would have to be paid double-time for the work, but were expected to resume hydrant-clearing at midnight on Wednesday. With about a dozen people available for the task, he expects it to be later in the week before the job is complete.

“I’d say by Thursday night we should have them all cleaned up,” Mr. Hallahan said.

While hydrants along the village’s main streets appeared to be mostly clear by Monday afternoon, many on side streets remained buried under heavy piles of snow, with spindly metal flags rising from some of the mounds as the only indication of their presence.

Canton is not alone. The St. Lawrence County Office of Emergency Services sent out a similar county-wide appeal, also asking residents to clear driveways and sidewalks so that fire and EMS personnel would have better access to homes in an emergency.

Elsewhere around the county:

n Massena has about 600 hydrants, and officials there are “cleaning them out as fast as we can,” Department of Public Works Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad said Monday.

“Provided it doesn’t snow any more, we think it will be the end of next week,” Mr. Fayad said of clean-up efforts.

Massena’s crews use a Bobcat with a snowblower, working in tandem with loaders or backhoes, to remove the bulk of the snow, but some residual shoveling is usually necessary after that. Mr. Fayad said DPW would likely contact the fire department for help with that final step, but “the general public generally steps in to help without our asking,” he added.

n Ogdensburg crews started clearing snow from more than 400 hydrants around the city on the day after the storm, a job that will probably continue until the end of this week, public works director Kit W. Smith said.

“Right now, we’ve got three crews out shoveling and cleaning hydrants, with the participation of the fire department,” Mr. Smith said Monday.

“We’ve got everyone we can out doing them,” Mr. Smith added. “That’s our highest priority right now.”

As in Canton, Mr. Smith said he expected efforts would be stepped up once the New Year holiday had passed, with crews expected to work 12-hour shifts starting Wednesday to finish off the hydrants, as well as concentrating on clearing tall piles of snow away from intersections where they block drivers’ visibility.

“This is a real north country winter,” Mr. Smith said. “We haven’t had this in a long time.”

“We also don’t generally get this much snow so early in the season,” he added.

In addition to asking for the public’s patience, Mr. Smith also asked for their help — not just in clearing hydrants, when possible, but in not piling more snow on top of the lifesaving fixtures when shoveling their own walks and driveways.

n In Potsdam, Village Administrator David H. Fenton said Monday that crews still had “mountains of snow in every parking lot” and some other areas to plow, but the village’s nearly 200 hydrants had already been cleared.

“We brought people in on overtime on Saturday and Sunday,” Mr. Fenton said. “They are a high priority.”

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