City's response to inclement weather must improve
December 28, 2008 · 2:28 PM
It is time for Mercer Island's elected leaders to take a hard look at our city's disaster planning. The city's lack of response to this month's weather has placed its citizens in danger and highlighted the need to reassess our disaster plan. The official response must improve.
I am writing this essay eight days after the first of a series of snowfalls. I have yet to see a city snowplow pass by the street in front of my house. I live in a reasonably flat area, yet again today I am unable to get my car out to a plowed road. The day after the first snowfall, I was not able to drive the two short blocks from my house to West Mercer Way, which had not been plowed or treated at all. It is my understanding that this lack of concern for the safety of Mercer Island residents was the same all over the Island. Today, due to rain, the leftover snow, ice and slush is so slick that the roads are again not usable.
I did manage to get to I-90 on Tuesday, which I found safe and easily drivable. Roads serviced by the Washington State Department of Transportation were treated appropriately, allowing safe and near normal travel.
This region is the laughingstock of any other part of the country that has ever seen snow.
There has been little effort on the part of the city of Mercer Island to help its citizens during this weather. While driving is impossible, walking is treacherous on flat surfaces and often futile on hills. This laissez-faire approach to road maintenance is dangerous and wrong. If the city feels that "every man for himself" is the attitude to have, then we need to ask why we are paying property taxes. The city recently spent a million dollars creating a new soccer field so that players would have safer footing during ball games when the weather is inclement, but does not feel that spending enough money to allow people to travel to work or vital services is a worthwhile goal.
It is wrong that snowfall which any municipality outside the Northwest would consider relatively minor should shut down the Island for days. It is wrong that subsequent snowfalls compound the earlier problems, when they should simply warrant another round of snow removal. It is wrong that on day eight it is still not safe for an ambulance to come to my house if my daughter has a severe complication of her diabetes. It is reasonable to expect streets to be passable within one day of a snowfall.
Those who think that events of the past week were rare had best get ready for a new definition of "rare." Climate change is going to make this type of weather more and more frequent in the future, and prudent communities should plan for this.
Mercer Island has shown itself to be ill-equipped for an adverse event that communities in most other states would shrug off without much thought. How are we going to handle a much more significant event, such as an earthquake?
I do not want to see any more requests for bond issues or tax hikes to pay for pretty parks or other whims until we have an adequate infrastructure to handle emergencies. Just as we are to have emergency supplies in our home, the city should have emergency services in their cupboard. We need to have vehicles able to clear snow and ice; equipment to clear roads after wind storms so that emergency crews can get to power lines or citizens in need; and emergency medical care available on the Island so that initial medical care can be delivered to those in distress. At present, the Mercer Island Medic One crews - capable as they are - are unable by state law to even start an IV, much less deliver medication. Someone having a heart attack from shoveling snow or moving downed trees so that he or she can get some food at the grocery store cannot get any treatment if the ambulance from Bellevue has difficulty getting to the Island.
It is time for a change in attitude from the city leadership.
To download and view a map of the streets cleared by the city's four snow plow trucks, go to www.mercergov.org/files/SnowMapforMaintenance2008.pdf