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RECENT SNOWS HAVE SUBURBS ASKING HOW TO HELP CITY

Suburban highway officials who didn't come through for Buffalo during the recent heavy snowstorms say they want to live up to the City of Good Neighbors' reputation.

With much of the snow melted, and their suburban snowplows now spending more time in the garages than on the streets, highway superintendents are brainstorming plans for helping Buffalo -- or another municipality -- the next time there's a snowfall too big for any one government to handle.

Two ideas seem to be getting the most attention:

Towns bordering Buffalo would help plow city roads on and close to their borders. For example, the Town of Tonawanda would plow Buffalo roads near the Kenmore Avenue border and on the Riverside-Riverview border.

Towns would use their own equipment to plow some Erie County roads currently plowed by the county, freeing up county plows to work on Buffalo's main streets, and allowing Buffalo to focus more equipment on its residential side streets.

The ideas -- still little more than working proposals -- were mentioned at a recent meeting of the Highway Superintendents Association of Erie County. They will be discussed again at an upcoming session, which Buffalo and Erie County officials also are expected to attend.

Buffalo Streets Commissioner Paul V. Sullivan thinks both ideas are worth considering.

"We have over 13,000 streets, over 800 miles," Sullivan said. "Everyone talks about regionalism. I think this is something we could achieve."

While Buffalo was struggling to plow itself out from under 60 inches of snow that fell in the first two weeks of January, Erie County government leaders invoked an existing mutual aid agreement and asked suburban officials to lend the city a plow.

Some communities were reluctant to send their equipment 10 to 20 miles away, knowing the trucks might be needed in their own communities if the snow got worse.

"It's like 20 miles. I don't feel comfortable sending them 20 miles," said Newstead Highway Superintendent Gary Fogal. "What if we get hit hard? I have to run for office. It's not politically correct not to service your own people."

Several others offered to help when their own streets were cleared, but by the time that happened, Buffalo had called in the National Guard for help.

"I said, 'At this point, my plate is full, we are working around the clock,' " recalled Town of Tonawanda Highway Superintendent John Hedges. "I said, 'As the conditions improve, I will give you a call back.' By the time I called backed, the Guard was committed."

In the end, only West Seneca and Erie County sent plows to the city.

But town and highway officials around Erie County say they recognize Buffalo has special problems because, as the hub of the region, it has a responsibility to clear its main roads so that hospital routes are open, commerce can continue, and workers -- primarily from suburbs -- can get to their jobs.

Given that and the city's limited resources, the suburban officials said they understand Buffalo's inability to both keep the main roads open and adequately clear its side streets during a record storm like the one that occurred earlier this month.

As long as they get their own roads open, the suburban highway superintendents said they want to help Buffalo and think that is more likely to happen with a detailed plan, several said.

"The point is to see if we can come up with a more effective plan for helping Buffalo," said Amherst Highway Superintendent Thomas Wik.

The proposal for towns bordering Buffalo to help the city came from Hedges, who said that communities might be more willing to work on border streets than to simply turn a plow over to Buffalo.

"We are more familiar with the adjoining areas," Hedges said.

The idea for the town to take over some of the county's chores so that Erie County can give the city more help came from Fogal.

"It would work out so much better if the county could work out a system where they could free up (a plow) from every division, and let the towns help them out by plowing county roads," Fogal said.

David P. Comerford, Erie County deputy commissioner of highways, supported the county being included in a plan to help Buffalo.

Comerford was less enthusiastic about the proposal to have county equipment freed up to help the city.

He said the county's 50 pieces of snowplowing equipment are kept in 10 storage facilities, and it would cause logistical problems to be moving the equipment long distances during a storm.

Comerford said he could support the idea as a backup plan, but thinks it makes more sense for county plows assigned closer to the city to be loaned to Buffalo, and for remaining county plows in those suburban communities to do the extra work.

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