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Ogdensburg, county pummeled by weekend ice storm and still counting the cost

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There’s no word yet on how much the storm that pummeled the region over the weekend will end up costing Ogdensburg, but the city’s Department of Public Works was out in force laying down tons of sand and salt and attempting to keep with the snow and ice as it fell.

“It was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” public works Supervisor Gregg E. Harland said.

Because the city never lost power Mr. Harland said snow removal crews were spared having to clear the streets in the dark.

And despite the layer of ice that clung to nearly everything in the city over the weekend Mr. Harland said even the ice wasn’t as damaging as in other parts of the county.

Ogdensburg was mostly hit with sleet, Mr. Harland said, and unlike freezing rain sleet bounces off most surfaces before it gets a chance to cling on.

Mr. Harland said that helped prevent trees from being heavily damaged and made removing the ice buildup easier than if it had been a thicker covering.

Residents in the city were also a big help to the department as they largely kept off the roads during the storm, allowing snowplows to more easily clear roads, Mr. Harland said.

Good luck aside Mr. Harland said all 23 public works employees were working 12 hours shifts throughout the storm – which lasted from Friday night until Sunday afternoon – to make sure the roads were clear.

“It kept coming and coming,” Mr. Harland said of the snow. “It was hard to stay ahead of it but we did.”

The final calculations have not been made, Mr. Harland said, but in addition to overtime worked by public works employees the storm also raked up costs for the city due to the additional sand and salt used on the roads and the fuel it took to keep the trucks running.

“Now we’re working on snow removal,” Mr. Harland said, adding that they will begin with major intersections and crucial infrastructure like the roads around Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, before moving to smaller side streets.

Branches that snapped off of trees during the storm should be hauled to the edge of the street to be picked up by the city, Mr. Harland said.

Mr. Harland said if people need the branches removed immediately they can call the public works office at 393-2300, otherwise public works employees will pick them up as they make their usual rounds.

The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The department is ready to pick up Christmas trees on the curb in the next several weeks regardless, Mr. Harland said.

In the rest of the county the cost of the storm has likewise not been totaled, though crews have been working round-the-clock since the snow and ice began to fall.

“It’s not done yet,” said William E. Dashnaw, St. Lawrence County’ former highway superintendent who is filling in while a successor to Toby W. Bogart is sought. “I would only be guessing right now and I don’t like to do that.”

However, Mr. Dashnaw said he expected the cost of the storm to be high because plow crews are working 24/7 at least through Tuesday along with three to four other crews dispatched to clear limbs and other debris from roads.

The worst of the storm in the county is south of Canton in the Clare, Russell and Edwards areas where scenes are reminiscent of the 1998 ice storm when power poles snapped.

“It’s wild out there,” Mr. Dashnaw said.

The county used up all of the 400 tons of salt it stores in Canton Sunday morning but was able to get more when the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority opened up its depot.

“We’re hauling today all day,” he said.

County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire spent Monday afternoon touring the hardest-hit parts of the county and warming shelters with interim Public Health Director Lorraine B. Kourofsky and interim Emergency Services Director Keith J. Zimmerman.

The visits are to make sure medical needs are being addressed and that gathering spots which may become shelters, such as the Edwards Senior Center, Gouverneur Central School and Colton-Pierrepont Central School, are equipped with cots, food and generators. Public Health and Mental Health services of the county provided nurses and counselors. The Salvation Army was on hand with food and beverages.

“The real issue for county services is our response to the emergency,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “We’ll worry about the cost later.”

The weekend typically means a small staff at the 911 center but the county called in extra hands over the weekend to deal with additional emergency calls, Mr. Zimmerman said.

“We had no light shifts,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department arranged for the National Guard which was sent out teams of two to check on every house without power to assess the needs of people living there, Ms. St. Hilaire said. Staff from the Office for the Aging were making phone checks of people they knew might need help. The office’s nutrition program was also helping with food.

Canton Town Highway Supervisor Terry L. Billings said the weight of ice is gradually increasing stress on tree limbs and he’s concerned that if the wind picks up it will cause branches and power lines to go down.

“We’re still under a risk. If we get winds, it could change the whole scenario dramatically,” he said.

He said he’s “keeping his fingers crossed, “until Thursday when temperatures are predicted to climb into the low 30s, high enough to melt the ice.”

“Overall, Canton is in very good shape compared to some of the other towns,” Mr. Billings said. “We’ve had some limbs down, but we haven’t had any large diameter trees down.”

Canton Village Superintendent Brien E. Hallahan said there were only a few downed scattered tree limbs in the village and crews will try to collect them after the holidays if they’re not busy clearing streets.

A notice about limb pick-up will be placed on the Canton website.

“There are a few scattered branches here and there, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been,” Mr. Hallahan said. “We will try to help people out, but the roads come first.”

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