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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 09:05 pm

Hot and bothered

Aldermen question city's response to recent bad weather

As with the March tornadoes, nothing but praise has gone to work crews from the Springfield Department of Public Works and City Water, Light & Power in response to the ice storm that paralyzed Springfield for most of last weekend.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council, several members of the council had questions for Mayor Tim Davlin about how his administration responded to the storm that knocked out electricity to about a third of the city and made driving difficult indeed.

Many of the complaints centered on a perceived breakdown in communications between city leaders.

Although messages left for CWLP officials were eventually returned, Ward 7 Ald. Judy Yeager was frustrated that she couldn’t reach anyone at the power company during the evening hours.

“I just think that it is very difficult as an elected official when we can’t get in touch with any of the people. I just want an unpublished number that we can call and expect somebody to answer a cell phone, so that we can tell our constituents, you know, an answer,” Yeager said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Davlin explained that CWLP general manager Todd Renfrow had “replaced his [cellular phone] number a short time ago.”

The mayor lauded city public-works and utility workers, pointing out that in March, they didn’t have to contend with single-digit temperatures. Crews also had support from Ameren employees after the tornadoes, but they weren’t available to help out this time.

“We’ve never had a call at the city where the National Weather Service calls you and asks you to sit in on conference calls because ‘you haven’t seen anything like this in ages,’ ” Davlin said.

Ward 10 Ald. Bruce Strom had questions about the city’s streets and wanted to know whether salt was applied in anticipation of the storm. “As I drive around the city, the road pavement with the ice on it is really difficult to traverse, and I can’t remember it ever being like this,” Strom said.

Mike Norris, head of the city’s public-works department, said that streets couldn’t be treated ahead of time because the rain that preceded the snow would have washed the salt away.

“When the temperature dropped, we were hit with an almost 2-inch-thick layer of ice and it’s almost impossible at that point,” Norris said, adding that they used more salt after this weekend’s storm than all of last year.

Ward 5 Ald. Joe Bartolomucci, who rarely has a nice thing to say about Davlin’s administration, works in highway maintenance for the Illinois Department of Transportation and says that Norris’ guys did the best they could under the circumstances.

“There’s no exact science, because every storm has so many variables. We [IDOT crews] started on Thursday, spreading salt continuously. Come Friday morning, the pavement on the interstate was no better than the pavement in the city,” Bartolomucci says.

Most complaints in his ward, he says, were about the lack of electricity. “CWLP claims they learned from the tornado, but I don’t think they did,” he says.

The utility company should have doubled the number of workers answering its hotline, Bartolomucci says; CWLP officials have said it was fully staffed during the emergency.

But with all the controversy this year surrounding the construction of the new CWLP power plant, people were likely just annoyed, Bartolomucci speculates:

“Customers were probably, like, ‘Come on, you’re raising my rates — the least you can do is get my power on.’ ”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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