Complaints, snow remain

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Mild temperatures and light rain chipped away yesterday at what was left of Baltimore's largest recorded snowstorm, but commuter woes persisted a day after Mayor Martin O'Malley had promised that all city roads would be passable.

As city residents continued shoveling out cars and defending parking spaces with folding chairs, flags and hand-lettered signs, the region braced for worse problems from a mix of fast-melting snow and weekend rains. But the National Weather Service said late yesterday that it did not expect major weekend flooding.

After a week of nonstop snow removal, local governments also began tallying the multimillion-dollar cost of the storm. Some signs of normality have begun to emerge -- in Baltimore, garbage and recycling pickup is scheduled to resume Monday, and schools across the region are preparing to reopen Monday after the week's surprise vacation.

Many city side streets remained covered in snow, however, fueling complaints from angry residents who faced slow commutes or, in some instances, still struggled to get their cars back on the road. Complaints doubled at the city's nonemergency 311 call center this week, as the mayor again pleaded yesterday for the public's patience.

"This isn't something where we're popping champagne corks and congratulating ourselves for what we have done so far," O'Malley said yesterday. "I can't be satisfied until every street is dug out. Considering that we're up against the largest snowfall in history, I'm pleased with the efforts we're making."

He added, "This is a constant battle."

Across Maryland, weary work crews are prepared for a second blow from potential weekend flooding. But Scott Kroczynski of the National Weather Service Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center said he is not predicting major flooding for the Susquehanna or Potomac rivers.

"This is not going to be a huge event. It's a fast-moving storm," he said.

Kroczynski said the forecast model shows about 1 1/2 inches of rain falling over the Potomac Basin, with the crest of high water reaching Little Falls -- near the Maryland-District of Columbia border -- by Monday evening.

The flood stage there is 10 feet, and the forecast calls for a crest of 10 feet to 12 feet.

Residents were watching the skies yesterday in the tiny village of Detour, which sits at the lowest point on the banks of Double Pipe Creek on the border of Carroll and Frederick counties. Occasional floods are a way of life here, and residents say they are accustomed to carting valuables up from their basements and moving treasured belongings to second-story rooms whenever there is a threat of high water.

"If conditions warrant it, we'll establish a bridge watch," said George Thomas, Carroll County's assistant director of emergency management. "We'll check the bridge on an hourly basis, if we need to, to make sure that debris is not getting lodged against any spans. If we can keep the water flowing under that bridge, we should be in pretty good shape."

Others took a more pragmatic view of the forecast.

"I'm too old to worry," said Roger Atkins, 83, a 20-year Detour resident who was shoveling snow in yesterday's light rain. "A flood isn't in our control. We should control what we can control -- our economy, our peace -- and let God worry about the floods."

Biologists from the Department of Natural Resources took flood precautions. They bolted netting and mesh over the waters at the Albert Powell Fish Hatchery near Hagerstown, hoping to save hundreds of thousands of trout earmarked for Maryland streams and ponds.

In the floods that followed the region's severe snowstorm in 1996, Beaver Creek, which feeds the hatchery's cement troughs, flooded its banks and washed fish into the parking lot, a loss of about 80,000 trout -- nearly all of Maryland's 1997 stock.

"We have nearly a million fish on site right now, a good part of this year's stock and all of next year's stock," said Bob Lunsford, a biologist with the freshwater fisheries service. "We're hoping this is merely a precaution."

Flooding would push higher what has become an expensive weather bill for the region. In Baltimore County, officials estimated yesterday that about $3 million has been spent to clear about 8,300 county-maintained roads.

In Baltimore, the city has spent more than $2 million on snow removal for this storm -- the $1.5 million allocated to snow removal in the city's budget was spent before last weekend's storm arrived.

The city has been paying in other ways, too. Baltimore's 311 call center logged 30,786 complaints between Sunday and Thursday, an average of 6,157 each day. Typically, the call center receives an average of 2,500 to 3,000 calls each day, said Lisa Allen, the center's director.

Still, the high tab has not bought happiness in many corners of Baltimore.

Erica Nicholson, 26, said city trucks and plows have not touched her street, the 5100 block of Craig Ave. in North Baltimore. Nicholson said she has placed dozens of calls to the mayor's office, 311 and the city's general and snow information lines. She said she has been given seven different tracking numbers for her service requests.

"I've been listening to the mayor's every word, and none of it is true because my street is terrible," Nicholson said. City workers, she added, have given her only qualified assurances of a plow's arrival. "I can't keep going on maybes."

In the 5600 block of Crescent St., Clare Pfeiffer said she has not been able to get to work all week because her street, and her car, are still buried in snow.

"It makes me want to move to Baltimore County." said Pfeiffer, 72.

For some, the plow was the problem.

Benjamin Strong of Overdale Road in West Baltimore said he and his wife had spent most of the week slinging shovels and pushing snowblowers to carve out a parking space wide enough for one car.

At 2 a.m. Friday, the path he and his pregnant wife spent all week digging was buried by a city plow that yanked a mound of previously plowed snow back on to their street. By Friday afternoon, however, a front-end loader arrived and made up for the mistake.

O'Malley saw the dilemma firsthand Thursday night as he drove through Northwest Baltimore with road crews dropping salt on city streets. Again and again, angry residents demanded the crews lower the plow blade rather than drop salt -- but that didn't please everyone.

"Every now and again, they'll put the plow down to make the neighbors happy," he said. "Immediately, the phone lines light up from other neighbors angry that we buried the cars they had spent three hours digging out."

O'Malley said he was struggling on another front as well: defining the word "passable." On Thursday, he made the promise that all secondary roads would be passable by yesterday, and not everyone feels he lived up to his pledge.

"I said passable, not plowed," the mayor said. "Most of us don't live on snow emergency routes or secondary arteries. We live on side streets."

He said yesterday the goal is to clear and plow the emergency routes and secondary arteries and to make side streets passable "as quickly as possible."

Across the region, the snow continued to cause problems well beyond driving and shoveling headaches.

A 60-year-old man and a 7-year-old boy were seriously injured in two separate snow-related accidents yesterday, Anne Arundel County firefighters said.

Oliver Coleman, 60, of the 300 block of Tennessee Ave. in Pasadena, fell about 12 feet from his roof as he tried to clear snow from it about 10:30 a.m., said Capt. Michael Cox of the county Fire Department.

Coleman was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center for injuries to his head, neck and chest. He was in critical condition yesterday afternoon.

About an hour later, John Anthony Cayer, a 7-year-old boy who had been sledding with friends, slipped onto Argus Lane in Glen Burnie, where he was stuck by a 2003 Ford station wagon, police and fire officials said. The boy suffered head, face and shoulder injuries, and was taken to Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Police said he did not appear to have life-threatening injuries.

In Arnold, members of the Antioch Apostolic Church tried to salvage what they could from their auditorium, which was seriously damaged by a roof collapse this week.

Co-pastor David Wright estimated the damage to the 20-year-old, two-story structure at $3 million. But the collateral damage, he said, was more difficult to measure.

"We really haven't seen the extent to which it's going to disrupt our lives," Wright said.

In the Harford County community of Street, snow caved in seven greenhouses full of ornamental plants at Foxborough Nursery Inc., just a week before they were to be shipped to nurseries around the country. David Thompson, the nursery's owner, and his crews have been working to salvage the plants.

Thompson estimates the damage at about $75,000 in structural and plant losses.

Thompson said ordinarily they would be uncovering houses for the spring in just a few weeks, and would be starting to dig up trees in the field for shipment next week. "I don't think we're going to be able to get in the field for two or three weeks," he said.

Sun staff writers Candus Thomson, Jennifer McMenamin, Lane Harvey Brown, Rona Kobell, Julie Bykowicz, Laura Loh, Larry Carson, Liz F. Kay, Jason Song, Stephen Kiehl and Alyson Klein contributed to this article.

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