Full court mess
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org February 3, 2011 4:32PM
Sem Suhldeil, an employee of School District 203, uses a snow blower to clear the sidewalk along Washington Street near Washington Middle School and the “Officer Friendly” statue Thursday afternoon. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 26, 2011 12:18AM
Patience was beginning to wear thin Thursday as residents on many of the city’s 1,200 cul-de-sacs continued waiting for the snowplows to come.
Just over the southwest edge of Naperville, Wheatland Township resident Debra Shea was watching the plows drive past her court. A snowplow cleared away the spur leading out to the main road, but left the circular drive alone.
“When they drive by, it looks like it’s done,” she said.
She understood there could be confusion, with her house under township jurisdiction and the people across the street having city services.
“Wheatland Township says, ‘Oh, it’s Naperville,’ and Naperville says, ‘It’s Wheatland,’” said Shea, who was thankful when a couple of the residents were able to dig out some seniors in the neighborhood who needed to get to doctor appointments.
Judy Ebel didn’t know how her two kids would get to the bus stop Friday morning, when her house in the Harmony Grove subdivision remained inaccessible Thursday afternoon.
“We keep getting the same story,” said Ebel, who had been assured the plowing would be accomplished by 6 a.m. Thursday.
The cleanup effort was expected to wrap up late Wednesday, a city official had said that morning. It was obvious that wouldn’t happen as a clearer picture of the massive blizzard emerged.
Public Works Director David Van Vooren said city crews have been dealing with variables that weren’t foreseen.
“It’s gone a lot longer than we thought, partly because of the extensive impacts the wind had,” he said, adding that visibility was reduced to nothing at times, and the gales created much higher drifts than expected. “That’s probably added a lot of effort we hadn’t contemplated.”
The original response plan did not, for example, involve front-end loaders and skid loaders.
“Because of the magnitude of the storm, we’re looking for specialized pieces of equipment to help us,” Van Vooren said. “Contractors have been supportive, they’re working with us ... This is off season for them, so they’ve been able to come out and give us a hand.”
For some neighborhoods, more hands would have been preferred. Residents on far southeast Clarkson Court and Jupiter Court, on the city’s near east side, were still snowed in Thursday afternoon. So were those on Kathy Court, near River Road.
“I know I’m not the only one,” said Kathy Court resident Sheryl Geltner.
She and her husband were planning to pick up their daughter, headed home from college for an internship interview, later Thursday. They weren’t sure they would make it.
“A few of our neighbors actually snow-blowed down the cul-de-sac and they’re using their four-wheel-drive SUVs,” she said.
Like most of those waiting to be dug out, Geltner was feeling a bit frustrated, but she understood that the circumstances are unusual.
“I know they’re doing the best they can. This is a lot of snow,” she said. “But we’ve got to get our daughter tonight, so we’ve got to do something.”
Neighbors on Samuel Court, near Fort Hill Drive and 75th Street, took matters into their own hands Thursday — literally.
Resident Cathy Diesman reported that 20 people used shovels to clear the cul-de-sac after her husband headed out and started working on it around 11 a.m.
“We just wanted to be able to leave our houses,” she said. “Several of (the neighbors) had called the city and begged, and they were just told, ‘No, you’re at the end of the list, you’ll have to wait.’”
Diesman said she was frustrated that the homeowners were compelled to take care of what the municipality should have done for them much sooner. But once it was done, she no longer wanted to see a plow coming up the street.
“They’ll just pile up three feet of snow at the end of the driveway and block us in again,” she said. “We just want to be able to leave our houses.”
Dr. Michael Jones didn’t mind that the snow-clearing trucks made it down his street. It was the snowmobile-sized chunk of icy snow at the end of his driveway, shoved there by a passing plow, that presented a problem. He said he wasn’t much comforted when a reply e-mail from the city told him it’s not unusual for that to happen.
“Since I had patients counting on me today, I used my car to push the ice to the side enough to sneak out of my driveway,” Jones said in an e-mail to The Sun. “The chunk of ice did make a few scratches on the car but I was able to get to work.”
Some people were able to accommodate a second homebound day. Glenn Panzarella’s house on a cul-de-sac in the Burnham Point subdivision off Book Road was socked in through much of Thursday. His wife, a labor and delivery nurse at Edward Hospital, came home in the morning, after spending more than 36 hours at work, and had to park up the street and hike the rest of the way in.
“I was just a little frustrated,” said Panzarella, who wouldn’t have minded having the option of returning to his job in Chicago, where he hadn’t been since Tuesday.
Practical matters, like trash pickup, also were occupying John Strougal’s mind Thursday. The southeast side resident was curious about how many cul-de-sacs like his still remained to be cleared. He wasn’t able to reach anyone at the city for an answer.
“It’s a big storm, so I know they’re aware. But our garbage collection is Wednesday, and I wanted to know if they’ll be coming (another day), or what they’re planning,” Strougal said. “I’m pretty realistic, this is a pretty bad storm, and I’m able to work from home. I’m just wondering.”
Stan Wojtasiak, Naperville Township’s highway commissioner, would like residents to be as understanding as possible.
“There is so much you physically do. Everybody would like to have all the snow gone when they go to work, but with 20 inches of snow it’s impossible,” said Wojtasiak, who was bothered by some of the criticism aimed at the road crews. “Some of these guys are working 20 hours, 24 hours a day trying to get the job done and sometimes it’s not appreciated.”
Most of those marooned by the storm realized the response effort has its limits, but so does their patience.
“This is so aggravating,” Ebel said. “You kind of go buggy being stuck in the house.”