Commissioner’s ‘first full winter’ offers tough challenge

Joanne Massaro: photoJoanne Massaro: photoIt’s Tuesday afternoon and for Boston Public Works Commissioner Joanne Massaro, New England’s winter season is in full swing. The city has just faced down a massive storm, is in the midst of dealing with a messy mix of sleet and snow, with another storm forecast to hit Friday.

“This is my first full winter in the job,” she says after a conference call on conditions outside. Her department and Boston Water & Sewer workers were expected to be hitting the streets on Tuesday night, salting and sanding the roads, and attempting to keep flooding to a minimum.

Though a snow emergency was declared, the Tuesday storm was a bit more unpredictable than the one last Wednesday, which took down power lines and trees with its heavy snow.

Initially, the snow wasn’t forecast to start until 9 a.m. But in the middle of Monday night, Massaro received a report that it was going to start earlier. And by late morning, there were warnings of a messy commute for later in the day. After-school activities were cancelled, as well as a number of local events, including a meeting at Mattapan Library about a new police initiative.

The Jan. 12 storm was easier. “One of the good things about it was that it unfolded as it was forecasted and that always helps in the business we’re in,” Massaro said. In that case, the snow emergency was declared at 9 p.m. the night before, and schools were closed on Wednesday. The work crews started at midnight with laying down salt and brine on the roads.

Massaro, who has held a variety of titles in the Menino administration, including director of policy, director of operations, and interim director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, also credited residents with calling the mayor’s hotline with complaints and questions about when the plows would get to their area. “That helps us focus on problem areas,” she said.

According to the mayor’s office, the hotline received 4,229 calls that day. Out of those, 778 calls dealt with downed trees and power lines.

Flash back forward to this past Tuesday afternoon: The snow had turned into rain, forcing her crews to wait to put the salt down, while they worked to clear snow off some of the streets they didn’t get to earlier in the day. “If we put out salt right now, it obviously just washes away,” she said. “We have plenty of work out there; it’s just a different kind.”

More information on the city’s efforts in snow removal is available at


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