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DPW struggles with first snowstorm of the season

After about 6 inches of snow fell throughout the day on Jan. 7 in Harvard, Department of Public Works Director Tim Kilhart told the Press he was far from satisfied with his department’s plowing performance. He was not alone; on Friday morning, police received numerous reports from drivers who had either slid off the road or were stuck.

Although the full DPW plowing staff of 11 was on duty the day of the storm, six drivers had never plowed for Harvard, and a few had limited plowing experience with only driveways and parking lots. By late afternoon, some routes were missed altogether, and others were not widened out enough for two cars to pass. One plow truck got stuck in Bellevue Cemetery and had to be towed. “We knew the first snowstorm would be tough,” Kilhart said.

The main reason Harvard has so many inexperienced plow drivers is that neighboring towns pay higher hourly rates, Kilhart said. “I can’t even get experienced people in for an interview when they find out what we pay.”

The DPW workers’ three-year contract expired on June 30, 2020, and negotiations between the union and the town for a new contract are still ongoing. Efforts at mediation this summer failed, and a neutral third party is now conducting a fact-finding inquiry into the issues that the two sides do not agree upon, according to shop steward Nick Ammesmaki. Meanwhile, workers have not received a pay increase for 18 months and counting.

“People aren’t happy,” Kilhart said. “Some of our guys are actively looking for jobs in other towns that pay more—both experienced and new guys.” Ammesmaki agreed, telling the Press, “We’ve lost 11 employees in the last 16 months to towns like Ayer, Groton, and Boxborough, where they pay $3 to $4 an hour more than Harvard.” But, he said, “Harvard won’t budge.”

Sometime this week Kilhart will hold meetings with his plow drivers to go over what worked and what didn’t, and to talk about doing more training. He said new drivers get maps of their plowing and sanding routes when they start, and they go out on their routes with experienced drivers to learn specifics like where turnarounds are at town lines. After that, drivers typically do multiple dry runs of routes with their plows up, but “it’s not the same as actually plowing.”

“We’re doing what we can with what we have, and we’ll make every effort to do better the next storm,” Kilhart said.

David Woodsum snowblows a walkway, Jan. 7. (Photos by Lisa Aciukewicz)

Edward Cordiero and Amy Caron clear steps at the Bromfield School.

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