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Snowplowing breeds anger management

Thank goodness it warmed up over the weekend. Maybe that will give some of us a chance to chill out about the winter.

That would be especially welcome news in Lancaster, where officials have grown tired of abusive language from callers complaining about everything related to snow removal. How tired? Town employees have been given the go-ahead to hang up on anyone who calls to complain and then starts using words not suitable for a family newspaper column.

You know it's bad when a town has to take that step.

"This has been an out-of-the-ordinary winter because of the severity of it and the duration of it," said Lancaster Highway Superintendent Richard Reese. "It's just been continuous. Normally in a winter, you might get a break here and there where you can clean things up. But . . . it's just been ridiculous."

Western New Yorkers are supposed to have famously thick skins when it comes to winter. We laugh in the face of below-zero wind chills and scoff at other cities that close down when they get a little dusting of 6 inches. Turn on the furnace? What for? It's only December.

But spend a little time talking with the people who work in highway departments and you begin to understand that while we may look like we're shrugging our communal shoulders and chuckling at our cold, snowy fate, some of us are really just repressing a lot of anger that we need to take out on someone or something.

And snowplows make for a very large and slow-moving target.

Reese said his drivers have reported being yelled at by people who just finished cleaning out their driveway, only to have the plow come down the street and deposit more snow in the apron -- as if the plows are somehow waiting for just the right moment to strike. One very frustrated resident threw a shovel at a plow this winter.

Many residents take to the telephone after feeling that they have been wronged by a plow. Some of the angriest callers are those who live on cul-de-sacs. Because of how the circular streets are designed, one or two homes near the end of the street end up with a lot of the snow on or near their property.

About five years ago, one such homeowner called Reese and accused him of being prejudiced against her because she was black.

"I said, 'I have no clue who you are, lady. You're a house number; excuse me for saying it that way,' " he said.

Amherst Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson is accustomed to hearing that residents are mad at the plows, often for knocking over curbside mailboxes or causing damage to a lawn. That's why this year, for the first time, he put out an information sheet before the winter explaining the town's snow-removal policies and telling residents whom to call with problems.

"I think that helped with our residents' complaints this year," he said.

Orchard Park Highway Superintendent Fred Piasecki said residents have not been complaining any more than usual in his town. Of course, Orchard Park is also part of the snow belt, so maybe residents have developed a heightened understanding of the difficulty in keeping the streets clear.

"I think they understand we're having a rough winter. We run into months that are more difficult than others," he said.

A little understanding would go a long way right now in Lancaster, where snow is one of the many four-letter words town employees would rather not hear for a while.


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