There’s no major snow in the forecast (though it will bec-c-c-cold!). And director of public works Steve Edwards is retiring.
But — in one of his last acts — he offered this information for the next big snowfall.*
123 miles of streets in Westport are maintained by the Department of Public Works. Snow removal can cost up to $2,500 per hour. It is important that the town use its resources wisely. Cooperation from residents can help minimize cost.
PLOW ROUTES. Streets are plowed and sanded in order of priority. Main (collector) roads are addressed first, with special attention to steep hills and difficult intersections.
Side streets are done next; then dead-end streets. A single pass is made on side streets to keep them open, but primary emphasis is placed on main roads until the storm has stopped. This may not seem fair to the residents of side or dead-end streets, but main roads must remain open.
Westport’s Public Works guys, in action a few years ago. (Photo/Luke Hammerman for Inklings)
BLOCKED DRIVEWAYS. All snow plows angle the same way: to the driver’s right. They can’t avoid pushing snow in front of driveways. Each homeowner is responsible for access to his driveway. The only way to avoid extra shoveling is to wait until DPW crews have completed their final cleanup on your street.
SIDEWALKS. Per town ordinance, property owners located within the business district are responsible for keeping all sidewalks along their property clear of snow and ice.
MAILBOX DAMAGE. The town repairs or replaces only mailboxes and/or posts that are actually struck by a plow blade. Usually a paint mark or tire tracks supply evidence of a mailbox strike. Westport does not repair or replace mailboxes and/or posts that fall from the force of plowed snow. Mailboxes and supporting posts must be installed to withstand the rigors of snow removal, including the force of snow pushed from the street onto the roadside.
TOWN RIGHT OF WAY. Belgium block, landscaping, dog fences, sprinklers, lights, etc. within the town right-of-way are subject to damage during winter operations. The town does not repair or replace any such items installed within the town right-of-way.
PRIVATE PLOWING. The Town of Westport prohibits plow contractors from pushing snow from driveways or parking lots onto town streets. This practice is dangerous, and impedes the town’s snow removal efforts. If there is no other alternative to pushing snow into the street, the plow driver must plow off the windrow left across the street by re-plowing until the road is safe. This may not necessarily mean bare pavement, but it should be no worse than when the driver began work.
Residents with questions or complaints should call Public Works: 203-341-1120.
*Which, we all know, is a matter of when. Not if.
In this scene, no one had yet cleared Main Street — or the sidewalks. So you know what? Enjoy the snow! (Photo/Katherine Hooper)
There are 2 things Steve Edwards dislikes: snowstorms, and talking to the media.
Last week — on the eve of the winter’s first snow — he sat down with “06880.”
But it could be the last time for both events. Westport’s public works director retires December 31. He’s spent 32 years in the department — 25 in charge — and is leaving just as he came in: low-key, steady, ready to tackle any problem, fully committed to his job and town.
Edwards calls himself “a farm boy from Easton.” After Joel Barlow High School he double majored in biology and chemistry at Bethany College — with a minor in physics.
He headed to the University of Connecticut for grad school. Edwards planned on being a researcher. But he realized he liked “actually getting things done.” His early jobs as an engineering consultant involved site work for power plants, with an emphasis on lessening environmental impacts.
He traveled constantly. When a public works job in Westport opened up, he knew his background fit well.
Edwards joined the department in 1985, as Jerry Smith’s deputy. Five years later, he succeeded Smith.
In 1985, Edwards recalls, public works was “the wild west. There were not a lot of controls in place.” It was an old boys’ network.
Now, every employee needs a commercial drivers’ license. Standards are high. Locators on each truck record the speed, and tell where it is.
“When I got here, you sent a guy out to plow and couldn’t find him for 6 hours,” Edwards says.
Westport’s Public Works guys, in action a few years ago. (Photo/Luke Hammerman for Inklings)
“In this town, everyone’s looking at you. People take us to task if we don’t do our job. And they should.”
He praises his highway, building maintenance and sewer treatment supervisors. They help him lead his 55-person department.
Another change involves meetings. In the beginning, Edwards went to one night session a week. Now there are three.
“Back then we’d go to the Board of Finance for money, then to the RTM to okay it. Now there are grant meetings, informational meetings, charettes.
“Westport has a very educated population. They all want their opinions heard. Employees sift through a lot of information. It takes time to listen to everyone.”
That’s true across town government. “Poor Jen (Fava),” he says. “She’s got even more: Boating Friends, Tennis Friends, Golf Friends. I don’t have any friends.”
But in other ways, his job has not changed.
“Asphalt is asphalt. Snow is snow,” Edwards notes.
“Most everything people take for granted comes through us: town roads, and dead squirrels on them. The transfer station. Sewers and clogged drains. Snow removal. Beach repairs. You name it, we do it.”
When disaster strikes, Westport’s Public Works Department responds.
Sometimes, Westporters expect public works to do everything. “A lot of people now come from New York. They’re used to concierges,” Edwards says.
“We’re their concierge. They don’t know who to call, so they call our department.” Sometimes he must explain that a road belongs to the state — not the town.
Edwards does what he can. Edwards gets great satisfaction from helping those who can’t fend for themselves. He has less patience with people who call in the middle of the storm “from an 8,000-square foot house with a generator, but they can’t get their favorite cable channel.”
Edwards has worked for 7 first selectmen. They’re all different, he says. But all recognize that Westport’s department heads are professionals. And “all of them realize that a lot goes on in public works.
“Quality of life comes through here,” Edwards adds. “We should be like a good referee: No one knows we’re there. If I’m in the press, it’s usually because I’ve done something wrong. I want to stay under the radar.”
Sometimes that’s hard. Six months after coming to Westport, Hurricane Gloria hit. His boss Jerry Smith was on leave, after a heart attack.
“I was wet behind the ears,” Edwards admits. “I had my hands full. Back then it was every man for himself.”
These days, he says, “the town is much better prepared. There’s so much more training and support.”
After Hurricane Sandy, Public Works took care of a section of boardwalk that ended up far from home. In emergencies they coordinate with other departments to keep Westport safe.
During Hurricane Sandy, he notes, “the amount of interdepartmental and inter-municipal coordination was phenomenal.” Public works, police, fire — even human services — all work together.
Edwards is retiring while he still feels good.
His wife wants to travel. “But I’m a homebody,” he says. “I’ve got my dog and my bike. I can hike. I’m happy.”
He’ll miss the people he’s worked with. Every employee now is someone he’s hired.
Edwards will stay on as a contract employee, consulting on projects like the pump station underneath the Saugatuck River. He started it, and wants to see it finished.
Next month, town engineer Pete Ratkiewich takes over. He knows the ropes: He’s been a town employee for 26 years.
Still, I asked: Does Edwards have any advice for his successor?
“You can’t take anything personally. We’re all professionals,” he said.
“We make recommendations. But at times things are way beyond our control.”
One example: during tight economic times, Edwards’ paving budget was once cut by $1 million.
“I went home, and I went to bed. I didn’t lose sleep over it.”
He found a way to pave the roads.
And — a few months later — to plow them.
That’s what he’s done for 32 years. Thanks, Steve, for doing it very, very well.
Alert “06880” reader Debbie Katz is concerned about “the ridiculously sharp new curbs on Main Street.” She writes:
I rarely go downtown to shop. When I do, I usually park in the lot because I can never get a space on the street itself.
Last Thursday I got lucky. I parked in front of Tavern on Main. Backing up to get closer, my front passenger tire hit the curb. It shredded flat in seconds.
Debbie Katz’s tire.
While I waited for AAA, several people passing by and shop owners came to tell me about their experiences, or how many they had witnessed in the past few months.
The tow truck driver said he was on Main Street multiple times a week for this problem. The guy at Town Fair said he gets at least 5 tires per week that are shredded by the Main Street curbs.
The next day, she wrote to town officials. Director of public works Stephen Edwards quickly replied:
The granite curbs used on Main Street are the same material and construction that is used throughout Connecticut and meets state and federal specifications. Because it is cut stone it does have a sharper edge than asphalt or concrete.
It is a chosen material because of it hardness and resilience to salt. It can stand up to New England winters with routine snow plowing and application of salt. The curb is not intended to be driven upon and will not damage a tire on routine contact.
New sidewalks and curbing were installed last year.
Debbie called that “uncool.” She emailed back:
Thank you for your quick response.
Of course the curbs are not meant to be driven on but when parallel parking, sometimes contact is made, even with the best and most experienced drivers.
I’m sure you can appreciate that if this is happening constantly in Westport, then perhaps the edges are just a little bit too sharp and you should review. But it doesn’t seem that you think it’s a problem.
Since all of the stores on Main Street are available at the area malls, that’s most likely where I’ll shop going forward; less wear and tear on my car.
I followed up with a phone call to Steve. He reiterated that the curbing is based on federal and state standards; that it’s used throughout the region because of its resilience (as opposed to the old concrete curb), and noted that the vast majority of parkers have not had a problem. “It doesn’t hurt your tires if you just nudge it,” he said. “You have to hit it with a lot of force.”
Killer curb, or another example of poor (in this case parallel) parking? Click “Comments” to drive your point home.
Steve Edwards — Westport’s public works director — offers this comment on today’s “06880” story, about the new Main Street sidewalk:
Your reader’s observation that in places on Main Street the curb placement has changed is correct.
This is a positive curb re-alignment based on survey measurement and engineering design. As the new granite curbing is being installed, the town is taking the opportunity to “straighten out the curb line” on Main Street that historically had significant variation.
For example, in front of Chase Bank a belly in the curb line was removed to create a more visually attractive uniform curb. In a number of places along the roadway the curb line has been corrected. In some cases the roadway got slightly wider, and others slightly more narrow.
At some points, the new curb on Main Street is wider than before.
First Selectman Jim Marpe sent this email to “06880” yesterday:
Thanks, Dan, for all your coverage of the town’s snow-clearing efforts this winter. Thanks too for encouraging everyone to drive more cautiously, and clear away the snow around their fire hydrants.
The positive comments about the work that our Department of Public Works snowplow drivers have done this year are particularly appreciated. Under the leadership of Steve Edwards and Scott Sullivan, our plow drivers have worked very long hours, and slept on cots at the DPW offices on the Sherwood Island Connector when they’re on duty for more than a normal shift (which has been often this season).
Westport’s DPW snow plow crew does yeoman’s work — all over town. (Photo/Luke Hammerman for Inklings)
They are very dedicated to doing the best job possible to clear Westport’s 123 miles of public roads as quickly as practical during and after a snowstorm. Our streets get high praise from folks who come to Westport from nearby towns after a snowfall.
I regret that there were some lost mailboxes and blocked driveways during last week’s snowfall, but I know it was the result of the plow crews making a sincere attempt to clear the roads in a timely fashion. The DPW crews deserve our praise and thanks (and yes, some coffee or hot chocolate).
While you’re at it, share some of those hot drinks with our police, fire and EMS personnel who can always be counted on to respond as rapidly as possible regardless of the weather or time of day (or night), and with our Town Hall and school custodians who have the buildings ready for the rest of us — even on a “snow day.”
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