Halloran sees snow sabotage

Underneath mounds of snow are bags of trash as well as a car. Garbage collection has begun again after being suspended for several days due to the snow. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Anna gustafson and Ivan Pereira

As piles of black garbage bags joined the dwindling snow piles left from the Christmas weekend blizzard, the mayor and other officials promised to find out what caused the serious delays in street plowing in Queens as well as the possibility of deliberate sabotage by city workers.

The Council was slated to hold a special hearing Jan. 10 to investigate the city’s handling of the Dec. 26 storm that left 16 inches of snow at John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to the National Weather Service. City leaders said they will take a strong look at the allegation that sanitation workers intentionally avoided plowing side streets in Queens.

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said streets in parts of Bayside, Whitestone and College Point had still not been plowed as late as four days after the storm, leaving many residents unable to get to work or receive medical attention.

“They lost heat. We have numerous residents who couldn’t go to work, and many of these people are not salaried employees,“ Halloran said during a conference call last Thursday.

In addition to the snow covered roads, residents had to deal with their trash piling up on their curbs since garbage pickup was suspended all of last week.

Halloran said five city workers, including two Department of Transportation and three Sanitation Department employees assigned to Queens, told him the day before that they were asked by supervisors “to take their time” plowing roads because the “mayor’s office doesn’t care about them.”

“When they reported for duty, they were told to wait for instructions to park in particular areas, and they’d be given instructions for which secondary streets to plow,” Halloran said. “Some sat for six to eight hours and were not given instructions which secondary streets to plow.”

The workers told Halloran they were ordered to do this because of cuts the mayor made to the city Sanitation Department. In the last two years, 400 workers were cut from the agency and 100 department supervisors’ salaries were reduced in late 2010.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg who toured Queens streets last Thursday along with Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, said he did not believe the meeting between Halloran and the workers happened.

“It would be an outrage if it took place,” Bloomberg said at a news conference at St. Albans.

Former Gov. David Paterson also called for an investigation into the allegations, and Doherty said his department would also look into the matter.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said his office is also working with Halloran and the city’s Department of Investigation.

“At this point, however, we have not reached any conclusions as to whether a formal investigation is warranted,” he said in a statement.

The mayor, who initially said the Sanitation Department did a good job a day after the storm, backtracked during the news conference and called the response unacceptable.

“Nobody is satisfied. We’re accountable, I’m accountable,” he said.

Queens elected officials sounded off against Bloomberg and the Sanitation Department for their response, saying they put thousands of lives in danger.

Streets throughout the outer boroughs were unplowed or under-plowed for days, and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said a Corona woman, Yvonne Freeman, died and a three-month-old baby was left brain dead because emergency responders could not reach them in time due to impassable streets.

Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said the street outside his southeast Queens home was not plowed for more than 48 hours after the snow first came down. He added that his office received several calls from constituents who had problems, including a dozen who could not leave their homes.

Borough President Helen Marshall gave the sharpest criticism to the mayor immediately after he introduced her at the end of the conference. She said it was imperative that the city brought the plows to clear streets that were used by the borough’s bus lines because no one could get their cars out of their homes.

“Nearly every single community has called asking ‘Where is the plow?’” she said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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