Unrelenting winter storms have left a chilled New England in a white maze, with growing mounds of snow and ice creating formidable public safety concerns.
The barrage of winter weather has stoked concern about the potential for water pollution from snow disposal in rivers, roof collapses and traffic and pedestrians navigating narrow clearances.
“Given the increased snowfall and snow amounts throughout the city, visibility has clearly been affected,” said Boston Police Department spokesman James Kenneally.
Snow accumulation totals this season so far have reached almost 71 inches in Boston, a city used to plowing and playing in a more manageable 23 inches of snow each year.
Other Northeastern cities, too, have been hammered by this season’s snowfall, with Hartford recording more than 80 inches of snow and New York City almost 58 inches, according to Weather Channel tallies.
One result is that cities and towns trying to make streets and walkways passable are running out of space to pile snow, prompting some to consider disposing of snow in waterways.
Massachusetts regulates disposing of snow in rivers, lakes or canals because snow mixed with auto fluids, asphalt, salt and other debris can pollute water or pose navigation hazards.
The state does make an allowance if a community has exhausted other options and public safety is an overriding concern, Joe Ferson, spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, said.
The policy has been in place since late 1997, but Ferson said he believes this is the first year it’s been needed. The department has so far fielded four inquiries about the last-resort disposal.
Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan International Airport, and two communities near Boston have consulted with the agency, but only the Coast Guard, operating near the North End neighborhood in Boston, has disposed of any snow in water in accordance with the guidelines, Ferson said.
The city of Boston, however, doesn’t intend to dump snow in waterways despite forecasts calling for more precipitation.
“Not something we’re interested in and it’s not necessary,” said Joanne Massaro, commissioner of Public Works for Boston.
Connecticut, too, has revised snow disposal guidelines, saying in some cases dumping snow in salt water may be viable.
“When it comes to disposing of all this snow, we must strike the right balance between environmental protection and public safety,” the state’s Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Amey Marrella said on Friday.
Both states require advance notice and prohibit disposal of snow in critical environmental areas.
Mountains of snow on city streets aren’t the only hazard.
Public officials are increasingly concerned about a rash of roof collapses in the region as flat roofs are crippled under the weight of snow and ice.
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency reports more than 92 roof collapses, with the majority occurring in the last few days primarily in eastern and southeastern parts of the state.
“The snow acts like a sponge,” said spokesman Peter Judge, noting rain and wintry mix have been as detrimental as snow.
Most structures in trouble are commercial properties with large, flatter roofs including warehouses, gas station canopies and even barns, Judge said.
No serious injuries have been reported, but local media in New England report barn collapses injuring or killing animals.
Buildings in the Boston area are typically designed for a snow load of around 30 lbs per square foot, or about two feet of snow, said Elizabeth Lewis, a structural engineer at Weymouth, Mass-based Gale Associates, Inc.
She said some older buildings let heat escape, which helps melt roof snow, while more insulated, energy-efficient newer buildings do not have the same winter luck.
Winter worries aren’t likely to subside any time soon.
Forecasts are calling for a wintry mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain in southern New England on Saturday evening and snow likely again on Monday night.
Copyright © 2011 Reuters