Digging out from Blizzard 2008

What comes after 20.5 inches of snow?

Hopefully, not flooding, as temperatures rise and the mounds melt, Columbus Public Service Department Director Mark Kelsey told City Council March 10.

Reporting on the efforts to remove the record snowfall from city streets, Kelsey said his crews had been clearing storm drains and hauling the white stuff to Berliner Park to keep the run-off from inundating residents.

Kelsey credited extensive planning last year, after he came on the job, for getting streets cleared quickly as the storm hit between March 7 and 8.

As many as five meetings with administrators and Mayor Michael Coleman were held by September to plan for the winter snow removal, Kelsey said.

But this snow storm was so heavy that it quickly became clear that the plan, which calls for getting trucks into neighborhood streets 48 hours after the snow stops, had to be thrown out.

Using department vehicles, private contractors and other city vehicles that had been retrofitted to plow snow, the crews were on the side streets within half an hour of the end of the storm, according to Kelsey.

Ninety-nine trucks remained on the streets Monday, with drivers working 12-hour shifts, with the goal of having all streets open by 6 a.m., Tuesday, the director added.

Council members were highly complimentary of the efforts of the city’s “snow warriors” and planned to honor them at a later meeting.

Even with spring, by the calendar, only two weeks away, Kelsey knows that winter weather could return, particularly icy conditions.

The city is down to 390 tons of salt for roads, he reported, with the delivery of another 100 tons expected that week.

It takes about 500 tons to cover Columbus one time.

The week before the storm, an order was put in for 1,500 tons, and an order for 10,000 tons was put in after the snowfall.

With many other communities trying to replenish their supplies, Kelsey expected deliveries to be “sporadic” for a while, until the pressure lets up. He is looking to have a delivery within a week.

Potholes will be another result of the storm and the heavy vehicles, he warned.

Last year the service department patched 70,000 potholes, and has already filled 19,000 since the first of the year.

The goal is to have any pothole repaired within three days of it being reported. Kelsey said crews have been able to meet that goal 70 percent of the time.

Residents can report potholes by dialing 311 or 645-311.

Northland revitalization

In other business, City Council approved a land transfer of 84 acres of the former Northland Mall site on Morse Road to the Columbus Urban Growth Corporation, that will pave the way for redevelopment of the eastern portion of the site.

The transfer will allow for commercial and residential projects on Morse Road, according to Columbus Development Director Boyce Safford. Northland Mall closed in 2002.

Menard’s, a home improvement store, will be the first anchor store to build on the site, Safford said.  The development is expected to generate more than 800 jobs, in along with the more than 1,000 jobs at the Ohio Department of Taxation.

Other phases of the plan call for a civic center, sidewalks, parks and neighborhood retail, dining and offices.

The project has the approval of area business and neighborhood associations.

Columbus expects to invest around $38 million in the area,  including $19.4 million on site redevelopment, and $18 million in improvements along Morse Road from I-71 to Cleveland Avenue.

In phase two, starting this year, Columbus will build a landscaped median, new curbs and gutters, street trees, sidewalks, improved streetlights and traffic signals and pedestrian crossing upgrades at intersections. Completion is projected for 2009.

Water worries?

In response to an article from Associated Press about traces of pharmaceuticals found in the drinking water of 24 cities, including Columbus, Public Utilities Director Tatyana Arsh attempted to allay any fears that residents might have about drugs in their tap water.

“I can assure you our water supply is safe,” and is cleaner that bottled water, Arsh said after being asked by City Council members about the report.

Columbus conducted its own studies in 2001 and 2005 in a search for 53 compounds in the water, and found four pharmaceuticals in miniscule amounts, Arsh said.

The drugs were detected in one part per trillion parts of water. That’s the equivalent of one grain of sand in a swimming pool, Arsh explained.

There is no evidence that these trace amounts are harmful to people, Arsh added.

The AP article noted that drugs – such as antibiotics and sex hormones – are passed into the water system after human consumption, and not all residue is removed during the treatment process.

Arsh said that it is up to all residents to make sure the water supply remains uncontaminated by being careful about what is washed into storm drains or flushed down toilets.

“We are all living downstream,” Arsh said.

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