Why Local Leaders Are Saying Milwaukee Snow Removal Efforts Are “Unacceptable”

Here’s a look at the plow politics happening in our city right now.

A pair of Milwaukee aldermen aren’t happy with the snow removal efforts of the city’s Department of Public Works in the aftermath of last weekend’s storm, which dumped nearly a foot of the white stuff in some areas. 

Aldermen Khalif Rainey and Russell Stamper described the DPW’s work in plowing and removing snow in some city neighborhoods as “simply unacceptable.” 

Two days after the storm, neighborhood streets across the city remained “a mess,” Rainey and Stamper said in a joint statement as the area braced for another snowstorm that is set to arrive on Thursday morning.

“Our residents are – AGAIN – fending for themselves as they use their own shovels and snow blowers to dig out from the snow, doing the job that DPW apparently isn’t up to doing!” they exclaimed.  

“We have watched our constituents trying to dig out stuck vehicles from unplowed streets so that they can go to work or go get groceries. Our offices have been bombarded with calls and complaints from tired and angry community members who are rightly dismayed by the lack of service.”

Rainey and Stamper said they intend to hold departments accountable for delivering services at a level necessary to help city residents. 

“We appreciate the calls and complaints from residents, and we strongly encourage those to continue, so that we can pass them along to the DPW leadership and hold the department accountable,” they said.

Rainey and Stamper also noted that they found it disturbing to witness high levels of snow removal Downtown while some city neighborhoods “can barely get a single plow pass.”

“We are frustrated, and we share the concerns and frustration of the community,” they said.

Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske said the DPW has been actively clearing the 7,000 lane miles that exist throughout the city, with a round-the-clock operation that began Saturday night.  

“We recognize the public’s urgency to get back to normal, but this winter storm was anything but normal,” he said. “We are up against Mother Nature, and she has hit us with the deepest snow we’ve seen in a decade. The magnitude of this storm created some unique challenges for addressing some of our narrow and highly parked streets.”

In many cases, the DPW had to deploy special equipment that is small enough to navigate the narrow spaces, resulting in an extended clearing operation, Polenske said.  

“We appreciate the public’s patience as we continue to deploy all available personnel and equipment to tackle these severe conditions,” he said.  

In a related matter, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis has proposed a city pilot program that would put residents and small contractors to work cleaning up residual snow piles that block driveways and alley approaches after city plows pass through.

Lewis said the proposal could address a longtime nagging problem for city residents and property owners, while also providing much needed work for residents and contractors. 

“We often hear complaints about city plows blocking driveways during snow clearing operations with large mounds of snow and slush, requiring people to go back and then dig out their driveway approach,” Lewis said.

She noted that DPW leadership has acknowledged that there aren’t enough available city resources to have employees clear blocked driveways and alley approaches.

“With this pilot program, we would have workers coming in behind the plows to clear those driveway approaches and to clean up those alley approaches,” she said. 

The long-standing issue became a hot topic again during last weekend’s major winter storm, Lewis added.

The duration of the storm – which lasted more than 20 hours – meant that crews had to continuously plow and didn’t have an “all clear” declared until late on Sunday. The declaration is given when snow has subsided and plow paths that are cleared won’t be snowed over again, she explained.

“Our DPW crews have been out there working hard to clear the snow from curb to curb as efficiently as possible and they’re doing the best they can,” Lewis said. “My hat’s off to them, and I hope we can lend them some support by coming through with this pilot program.”

Lewis said she plans to present the pilot program for a hearing before a Common Council committee sometime soon.

“While we are not aware of the details of this particular legislation, DPW is always open to working with other partners who can bring additional resources,” DPW spokesman Brian DeNeve said.

For general snow-related updates, Milwaukee residents are encouraged to go to www.milwaukee.gov/snow.

This link has info on snow emergencies, parking status and how to sign up for alerts.

To request that a street be plowed, residents can also call 414-286-CITY.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.