Major snow storm poses challenge to Detroit mayor

By Corey Williams

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 1 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Douglass Cante fills a gas can for his generator at 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011, at the Marathon gas station on Main Street in Whitmore Lake, Mich. as the major midwest snowstorm begins.

Detroit News, Mark Bialek, Associated Press

DETROIT — With a potentially historic storm bearing down on Detroit, city officials scrambled Tuesday to prove they're ready to deal with it, 12 years after a former mayor was harshly criticized over his perceived muted response to a similar blizzard.

The political stakes are high for Mayor Dave Bing in responding to a storm that was expected to drop at least 7 inches and possibly as much as 12 inches of snow on the city by late Wednesday. Detroit's woes were just part of a larger system that stretched more than 2,000 miles and threatened to blanket a third of the nation with snow and ice.

Light to heavy snow was falling across most of the state's Lower Peninsula late Tuesday.

Bing's administration wants to avoid a repeat of January 1999 when a three-day blizzard caught then-Mayor Dennis Archer and the city unprepared. Schools closed, mail delivery was slowed and many municipal operations halted as 26 inches of snow clogged residential streets and produced havoc for motorists able to get their vehicles onto main thoroughfares.

Thousands were held captive in their neighborhoods. The city's failure to prepare and plan dogged Archer for the remainder of his time in office.

"This is really important for him to make a good impression with the citizens to do a good job with this snowfall," Detroit businessman and former city resident Marshall Terry said of Bing.

Terry, 40, lived on Detroit's east side in 1999.

"I was blocked in. I had to dig my way out," he said. "When they finally plowed, they blocked my driveway. I came home from work and couldn't get in."

It could be the largest storm to hit Detroit and southeast Michigan since 12.2 inches fell Jan. 22-23, 2005, and comes when Detroit — already buried by an avalanche-like budget deficit of at least $85 million — is looking to spend less, not more.

Bing, a Democrat, has been balancing cost-cutting while trying to retain key city services such as snow removal. But the city likely will have to fork over a significant amount of overtime this week alone, said one union official.

"If we get as much snow as they're predicting . . . I don't foresee any way around it," said Roger Rice, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 229, which represents mechanics who repair tow and salt trucks, and other city vehicles.

The mayor's office didn't speculate Tuesday on what the price tag might be.

"Our measurement will come in the form of safety and convenience for our citizens," spokeswoman Karen Dumas said. "We want them to be prepared and know that we will do everything we can to respond to this storm."

Tuesday afternoon, about four hours before the storm entered Michigan's far southwest corner, Detroit's Homeland Security office and other departments met to review the city's emergency operations plan and procedures involving snow and ice removal.

Bing could declare a snow emergency if accumulations reach 6 inches or more. City crews would plow main roads while contractors would clear residential streets. Employee work schedules would be adjusted.

"Time after time, Detroiters have been let down as far as road conditions go and how the city clears the streets," said 34-year-old Felicia McGee. "I know he (Bing) has his hands full, but this is something he should use to uplift Detroit: 'We are going to do our best to keep the streets clear so people can get to work and get to school.'"

The storm also poses somewhat of a leadership challenge to new Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Michigan's Emergency Operations Center was expected to be activated Tuesday night to monitor and track the weather system, Snyder said in a news release.

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