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Mayor inspects snow-removal fleet before winter weather hits streets

Byron W. Brown was "talking plowed" Saturday.

Any snow-busters worth their salt map out winter cleanup strategies before the snow begins to fall, and that may be tonight.

Buffalo's game plan took center stage as the mayor strolled past a small mountain of road salt, then inspected some new equipment that has been added to the snow fleet.

It's even got a new car smell to it," Brown chuckled as he hopped out of a new truck.

It was no coincidence that commanders in the city's snow-fighting brigade discussed plowing efforts one day before wintry weather was expected to make its debut in some areas. While forecasters think the messiest conditions will occur south of the city, Brown said Buffalo is ready for whatever Mother Nature dishes out this winter.

Today is expected to start off dry, with a high near 55. But a strong cold front is expected to move in by tonight, causing rain showers to take a snowy turn as temperatures drop into the mid-30s, according to the National Weather Service station at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

"It looks like most of the activity will stay south of the city," said meteorologist Jon Hitchcock, adding that it's too early to predict how much snow might accumulate.

The city has added 10 new pieces of equipment to its snow fleet. Seven additional trucks are on order and should arrive by early winter.

"We're in better shape than we have been in years," said city Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak, referring to the 65-vehicle fleet.

The winter crew also is being beefed up. Stepniak said several additional sanitation employees will be assigned to snow-cleaning duties this season. On a typical day, the city's winter crew will consist of 67 people. When severe storms hit, the city also can deploy workers from other departments.

The Charter requires the mayor to submit a "snow control plan" to the Common Council by Nov. 1. Stepniak said he is still working on revisions to the plan, including some route changes aimed at improving plowing efficiency.

As Brown inspected the fleet, he reminded people that the city will enforce winter parking and sidewalk-shoveling laws. He also disclosed that the city is working on a plan that might involve hiring people to help clean sidewalks around city-owned lots and possibly assist some elderly and physically challenged residents with shoveling chores.

The city uses between 30,000 and 32,000 tons of road salt each winter. It is paying a third more for salt than it paid last year. Salt supplies are tight, due in part to heavy storms that battered some parts of the nation last winter. Stepniak said Buffalo would be paying even more for road salt if it hadn't locked in prices.

While city officials insist Buffalo is ready for an early blast of winter, they admit that some plows have yet to be installed on trucks.

"We still have leaves to pick up, so we can't put all the plows on this early," said Thomas Laudico, the city's fleet coordinator.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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