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December 24, 2008 at 8:25 AM

Salt on our wounds

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What a great way to cap a lousy sports year, huh? It’s bad enough that we can’t even escape from daily life and take refuge with one of Seattle’s sports teams. Any one, please. Now, we can’t even make it out to Qwest Field or KeyArena, or Bank of America Arena, or wherever, to watch our teams lose. (Though the Bank of America games at least end in wins sometimes.)
I know some of you get offended at “outsiders” commenting on how the city should handle snow removal. Too bad. I’ve been living here and paying taxes for over two years now and am tired of all the “outsider” comments. Much of this city’s population comes from “outside” Seattle and is what makes this city great. Many of us have seen how other cities handle winter emergencies and can tell you the city’s response to this rare snowfall has been short-sighted and inadequate.
In fact, you don’t have to be an “outsider” to figure this out. Many locals born here 50 years ago have realized this simply by stepping outside their homes in Magnolia, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, or any other hilly place this past week. There is no excuse for a city to be shut down for nearly a week based on two snowfalls that would barely rate on the winter scales of any Midwest city. Minneapolis had a storm as bad as any in Seattle just two nights ago and it was business as usual on Tuesday morning. Streets were plowed, salt was applied, and things were back to normal. As normal as they get this time of year. Flights were taking off and landing. Unless, of course, they were headed to Seattle, where our city remains a virtual hostage to the elements.
Nobody expects the snow removal budget to go into the hundreds of millions that it is in places like Minneapolis or my hometown of Montreal. I don’t have the tax money to pay for it and neither do you. But what I do expect from any elected government is for the security of citizens to be paramount. I expect an adequate disaster plan from our city and state officials when weather emergencies strike.
And make no mistake: This is an emergency.
People have been hurt. Some have nearly died on buses. Cars keep skidding off icy roads, or slamming into each other. Folks remain trapped in their homes unless they own a large-sized vehicle. Businesses are failing because of the dramatic economic hit this storm has placed on the city.
Our news department, in my opinion, has done a fantastic job of covering the issues, the most pressing one being our local government’s myopic, practically clueless insistence on not using road salt. Our officials hide behind environmental excuses for not going with a proven ice-buster. I’d take a closer look at these reasons, given how the cost of salt seems to be what’s driving this stance.
Because the environmental excuses don’t hold water when scrutinized by those who know what they are talking about.
I expect my elected officials to employ common sense when lives are at stake. Any city worth living in should expect this of its government.
Common sense dictates that you have a plan for freakish emergencies, even those that happen only once every decade.
In this case, three things:
1. Use salt to melt ice when it risks crippling the city for days
2. Close off streets that are impassable with police and official sign barricades
3. Hire private contractors to help with the plowing efforts
These measures will not cost hundreds of millions. They should not impact the environment to any significant degree if only used every decade or so.
If we’re going to talk environment, how is forcing folks to buy four-wheel drive trucks in order to get around in a snowstorm going to help our environment? Are any Prius cars navigating snow-packed roads well? Anyone checked the impact of chained tires on roadways lately?
Sorry if all you wanted was a Merry Christmas from me. I want one, too. But I also want one that’s safe for all of us trying to get around. Right now, we don’t have it. And there are steps that need to be taken to prevent the elements from making any more holiday seasons worse than they have to be.
I like living here. Seattle is my city now. And I have a right to expect my city to respond properly to something that impacts us all. Merry Christmas. And Happy Hanukhah.
Photo Credit: Ken Lambert/Seattle Times

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