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Brutal winter just won’t go away

Sprawled across five acres near the Central Terminal is the closest thing Buffalo has to a glacier, born from 11,000 truckloads of snow dumped here when the city dug its way out of the colossal November storm.

Six months later, the enormous mound – which used to be nearly five stories high – is now half that, and the once-pristine snow is unrecognizable because it’s covered in dirt and debris. Across the street, the patrons at Arty’s bar watch from their stools as the glacier melts ever so slowly.

Come July, they guess, it may melt.

“It’s going to be longer than that,” piped in Chester Leo, from the end of the bar.

The temperatures may reach into the 80s this weekend, but signs are all around that winter has not left us, whether it’s the East Side glacier or the large piles of debris being cleaned up along Woodlawn Beach in Hamburg.

In fact, all across the Southtowns – where winter hit Western New York the hardest – communities are drowning in brush – downed trees, broken limbs and mangled shrubbery, all casualties of the brutal snow and cold temperatures.

Now that homeowners are outdoors for their spring cleanup, highway crews from Lancaster to West Seneca to Orchard Park can’t keep up. They’re frantically attending to the brush piles left at curbside for pickup.

“We are inundated with brush,” said Frederick J. Piasecki Jr., Orchard Park’s highway superintendent. “We’re working very diligently. We’re backed up. I literally have 70 percent of my operational workforce on brush.”

It began with the November snowstorms that belted Orchard Park with 6 feet of snow, the highway superintendent said.

“I think that started off the damage, especially to pine trees, but more importantly all kinds of bushes,” Piasecki said.

Then came February, the coldest month in Buffalo history. Without a thaw, the weight of the heavy snow and ice ravaged trees and shrubbery.

“When we finally did get a thaw, all this stuff was pretty much devastated,” Piasecki said. “Pretty much everybody had some kind of damage.”

At the compost center in Orchard Park, leftovers from the November snowstorm have grown to the size of a two-story, 10,000-square-foot house. Just to get rid of it, Orchard Park will be giving residents free mulch on Saturday at the Milestrip Road facility.

In Hamburg, workers are way behind on brush pickup, so Highway Superintendent Thomas M. Best Sr. added an extra crew.

“People have been doing a lot of landscaping,” Best said. “I’m determined to get caught up.”

In fact, in Lancaster and elsewhere this year’s brush pickup is costing more than anticipated.

“We’ve got a ton of brush. It’s going to be a problem,” said Daniel J. Amatura, the Town of Lancaster’s highway superintendent. “There’s not a whole lot of money in our brush budget.”

And in West Seneca, the amount of brush has at least doubled – if not quadrupled, said Matthew D. English, the town’s highway superintendent. Town compost piles rise 40 feet in the air.

“We are constantly giving it away,” English said. “Our grinders are working overtime every day.”

English asked residents for patience. Crews are picking up brush, but because of the overabundance it’s taking longer than usual. Pickup takes two weeks instead of the usual few days.

“We’re getting a lot of phone calls. People just want it done yesterday,” English said. “This year is extra heavy because of all the residents pulling out bushes. We are seeing an extremely high volume of brush. We just go at it every day.”

In Buffalo, municipal property near the Central Terminal – outside the area pounded by the November snows – proved to be a convenient location to truck the massive amounts of snow cleared from city streets, said Steven J. Stepniak, the city’s public works commissioner. By the time the city dug itself out, roughly 11,000 truckloads of snow were dumped onto the five acres along Memorial Drive, he said.

At that time, the urban glacier once rose nearly five stories high and was pristine white, Stepniak said. But as the pile melted, all the dirt and grime that plows picked up along with the snow remained behind, he said.

That’s what passers-by see covering the glacier, now.

“That’s just the stuff picked off the roadway,” Stepniak said. “I think it melts a little bit slower, because it’s insulated with the soil on top.”

Nearby residents have been good about the snow mound being in their neighborhood, Stepniak said. The commissioner sends crews by Memorial Drive every couple of weeks to pick up the litter that accumulates or the debris that emerges from the melting pile.

“Obviously, it’s not the best-looking,” Stepniak said, “but it will melt off when we get a couple of good rains and the temperature rises.”

Like the guys at Arty’s bar, he’s guessing that will be around the Fourth of July.

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