With very little of it falling so far, could this be a season without an abundance of snow, in contrast to last winter?
Ivor Belgrave, Great Neck Plaza’s superintendent of public works for the last eight years and the man in charge of snow removal and the village’s street and sidewalk maintenance, knows enough not to make a prediction.
“That’s a hard one,” he said, when asked about this winter’s lack of flakes so far. “It’s hard to say because of Mother Nature, so hard to predict what will go on. But you have to remember a few years ago, we didn’t have snow at all.”
Belgrave, who grew up in Great Neck and graduated from Great Neck North, started working for the Plaza 17 years ago and now supervises six men who run five plows (three of them with salt spreaders) and a sixth for sidewalks during a storm.
Though Belgrave constantly checks the weather ahead of time with the National Weather Service, Internet sources and local forecasts, he admits to being fooled sometimes. “Like the last one,” he said, referring to the anticipation of a December storm. “They said we’d get three to four inches and we got nothing. Nothing came, not even a dusting. We prepared for it, but it’s better to be prepared for it than not. We have to always be ahead of the game.”
The preparation for keeping the Plaza’s approximately five miles of streets clear starts at least 24 hours before a storm is scheduled to start.
“We’ve got to make sure that everything is on point,” he explained. “We’ve got to make sure the plows are working. We’ve got to make sure the sanders are working and make sure that the trucks are in good order. We do a direct check on everything. We don’t want to wait to the last moment to find out that one of the sanders doesn’t start, or one of the plows is not operable.
“When the snow starts, we can’t leave,” said the superintendent who’s been married for 39 years and has three sons and four grandchildren. “Once we’re here we have to work until the storm is gone and the roads are passable.”
His crew (Manny Alvarado, Patrick Carter, Roy Curtis, Chris Hoch, Mike Hummel and Steven Penn) have to let their families know that they could be at work for as much as 24 to 36 hours when a big storm hits.
“It also depends on how much snow is predicted,” adds Belgrave. “If we’re getting six inches or a foot or amounts like that I’ll bring in the whole crew. If it’s less, I only bring in a few. If it gets worse I bring in more.
“We do have to take breaks,” he points out, in discussing some of the bigger storms. “We have to get them some rest, give them meals. We do that when things are quieter, when people are off the road; the roads are passable and we’re sure that people can get to work or get home.”
Belgrave’s biggest problem over the years was an ice storm, not snow. “The toughest storm I had to fight was in March three years ago,” he recalled. “It was all ice. When it’s ice it’s harder to control because everything freezes over. The plows can’t move the ice off the road so we have to use pay loaders to break it up.”
Sometimes Plaza motorists can make things difficult for the crew. “When motorists don’t move their vehicles, we can’t help but plow them in sometimes,” he said. “It causes congestion and makes things impassable.”
Belgrave says that the Plaza often allows car owners (with Plaza stickers) to park in the covered garages at Gussack Plaza and Maple Drive when a big storm is predicted, or actually occurs. He suggests calling the village or checking the website (www.greatneckplaza.net) in those situations.
Belgrave admits that the prospect of having to deal with a big storm is actually exciting. “I get excited because you never know what we’re going to get hit with,” he confessed. “You want to know if you can maintain the storm, keep ahead of things. Sometimes the storm comes down at about a foot an hour. I enjoy the challenge and the rush of adrenaline.”
“You have to love what you do and I do love it.”