Mayor Andre Sayegh has been under fire from residents for his inadequate response to the massive snowstorm that buried Paterson in two feet of snow earlier in the week. Many roadways were not cleared for days. At least one roadway, Spruce Street between Grand and Morris Streets, was still packed with snow on Friday afternoon, three days after the snowstorm ended.
Public works director William “Billy” Rodriguez told council members on Friday night that officials expected a smaller storm. He claimed the weather reports were deceptive. On Friday, January 29, a report indicated there would be 4-8 inches of snow, he said. Another report on Sunday morning stated there is a 40 percent chance for 16 inches or more. Early Monday morning, a report stated there was 30 percent chance of 18 inches or more, he said.
“Not until 11:45 Monday morning did we get a report that 18 to 24 inches would be possible. At that time there was 10 percent chance of that happening,” said Rodriguez during an emergency meeting of the City Council.
“It was poor planning,” said councilman Shahin Khalique. “I don’t know where the director got the weather reports.”
The National Weather Service issued an alert on Saturday night that Paterson could receive as much as 18 inches of snow. By Sunday afternoon, the federal agency put out maps that showed Paterson could get 18 to 24 inches of snow.
Rodriguez said public works had 33 vehicles for the storm. He said one payloader went down. He said a contractor came to assist with a payloader late Monday. He said 8 trucks broke down during the storm that were repaired the same day.
Sayegh had said the snowfall was the worst in 25 years.
“The residents don’t care the reasons why we can’t get it done,” said council president Flavio Rivera. He said residents pay taxes and needed their roadways cleared of snow.
“I was very concerned with the operation,” said councilman Alex Mendez, chairman of the public works committee.
Mendez was told public works was prepared for the storm last Friday.
Mendez said many residents missed work or could not get out because of the impassable roadways. He said many roads were untouched. Small vehicles were stuck in roadways throughout Paterson on Wednesday morning, a day after the storm.
“A lot of dead-end streets were not touched,” said councilwoman Lilisa Mimms. Almost all of Paterson roadways were cleared of snow by Friday morning.
Sayegh had promised residents roadways would be cleared by 5 p.m. on Tuesday. It didn’t happen.
“You lied to Paterson,” said Mendez addressing the mayor, who was not present, at the emergency meeting.
Sayegh said he never made such a promise. He stated plows will be out clearing roadways until 5 p.m., he said.
Sayegh posted a series of videos on his social media page providing residents update about his storm response. He ceased posting update videos after a deluge of complaints began to pour in from residents, many complaining their streets were not plowed and the city failed to salt them prior to the storm.
Sayegh said his administration resolved the complaints from residents as they came in.
“We have to do better,” added councilman Al Abdelaziz.
Council members suggested purchasing a Snogo snow blower machine for snow removal. They also suggested allowing residents to park at Paterson Parking Authority garages and lots as well as school parking lots to facilitate snow removal.
Some also suggested having emergency contracts in place to bring in private firms to assist public works during a snowstorm.
“There’s another storm coming and we we’ve got to see a different plan,” said Mendez.
Paterson could see as much as 5-7 inches of snow on Sunday.
“I’d like to hear directly from the mayor what is the plan,” added councilman Luis Velez.
The council president asked public works director and a supervisor about their assessment of their performance during the storm.
“I think we did okay. We could definitely do better. There’s always room for improvement,” said Rodriguez.
“Do you think it’s acceptable to go 3-4 days after the snowstorm for a street to be completely cleared?” asked Rivera.
“In certain instances, maybe, yes,” said Rodriguez. He claimed he received a text that some roadways in neighboring Haledon were still not cleared of snow.
Sayegh did not respond to a message asking whether he agreed with his public works director’s statement that it’s okay for residents to wait 3-4 days after a storm before their roadways are cleared.
“I was hoping for a different answer,” said Rivera. “It’s unacceptable for you to have a road full of snow three days after a snowstorm.”
Email: [email protected]
Updated 10:30 a.m. Feb. 7, 2021.