Workers drill into the ground to repair a broken water pipe near Upper Mountain Avenue and Mount Hebron Road Monday night, after more than a week’s worth of frigid temperatures and a winter storm last Thursday. COURTESY KLAUS SCHNITZER

By LINDA MOSS and ERIN ROLL
moss@montclairlocal.news
roll@montclairlocal.news 

In the wake of last week’s “bomb cyclone” winter storm, the township towed dozens of illegally parked vehicles, issued dozens of summonses and had to deal with water-pipe breaks and leaks as temperatures plunged into the single digits.

The municipality ended up towing 42 cars and issuing 56 summonses for parking on snow-covered roads, said Township Communications Director Katya Wowk. On social media some residents complained that the town had been overly aggressive in its enforcement, but at its conference meeting Tuesday night the Township Council lauded the Department of Community Services, and the police and fire departments for their work cleaning up the municipality during and after the storm.

“I really want to commend our township employees for their performance during this cold wave and the snow,” Mayor Robert Jackson said. “We had two water main breaks and I must say that we went through that seamlessly. And I think that should be talked about more … Our township employees really performed magnificently during this time.”

Following last week’s brutally frigid cold snap, at Tuesday’s meeting Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville asked the local governing body to study the operations of Montclair Emergency Services for the Homeless, known as MESH, which serves many needy people from not only the township but neighboring Glen Ridge and Bloomfield.

The council talked about asking those two municipalities to contribute funding to MESH, possibly through a shared-services agreement, and authorized a $35,000 payment to the program. But there was also a discussion about whether the town should increase the financial support it gives MESH.

Montclair declared a state of emergency effective 4 p.m. the day the snowstorm hit, which was Thursday, Jan. 4. The Township Office of Emergency Management said that nonessential travel and parking on streets was prohibited. All public schools were closed, as well, with after-school and evening activities at school facilities canceled. And evening shuttle service was suspended.

The next day, Friday, Jan. 5, public schools and offices had a two-hour delayed opening and the township lifted the state of emergency. By that time the municipality had also issued a stern warning to abide by local ordinances regarding snow removal: not to illegally deposit snow in the streets and to clear their sidewalks or risk summonses.

“Montclair Community Services crews work around the clock to clear snow from our streets,” the township said in emails and texts. “Residents and business owners are reminded not to undo all this hard work by depositing snow from your property or sidewalks into the street. Not only does this hinder township efforts to keep roadways cleared, it is illegal.”

Snow-blowing and shoveling snow from walkways, driveways and sidewalks into the streets, plowing driveways into the streets, and cleaning snow off of vehicles into the street are all prohibited by the municipality.

“Please make sure your contractors are aware of the law when they clear snow from your property,” the town said. “Please remember to clear sidewalks of ice and snow in front of your property. Ordinance 297-32 requires property owners to clear the full paved width of the sidewalk or a minimum of 48 inches wide in order to ensure the safety of pedestrians using the sidewalks. In addition, a property owner whose sidewalk leads to a crosswalk must remove snow and ice to provide a clear path of access to the crosswalk.”

Township code enforcement officials will be writing summons to those who disregard the ordinances, the municipality told residents. And the township made good on its word.

This week the severe cold snap appeared to be taking a toll on the township’s infrastructure. On Monday the municipal Water Bureau reported that there was a water leak at Upper Mountain Avenue and Mount Hebron Road. Upper Mountain was temporarily closed to traffic at Mount Hebron Road and Jerome Avenue.

Then on Tuesday there was a water-main break on Upper Mountain Avenue between Watchung Avenue and Berkeley Place, according to the municipal Department of Utilities. Water was temporarily turned off while repairs were made, affecting about 15 homes as well as traffic in the area.

“Water freezes and expands and [pipes] can burst…generally this is what happens in the winter,” Wowk said. 

The cold temperatures were especially a concern for groups in Montclair that assist the homeless.

MESH offers an overnight respite shelter at Union Baptist Church. In the daytime, such organizations as the Salvation Army and Toni’s Kitchen provide meals and warming services.

Michelle Kroeze is the business manager at the Salvation Army Citadel on Trinity Place. She said that 25 to 30 people showed up Jan. 4, at the height of the winter storm. The facility served lunch, because Toni’s Kitchen was unable to open, she said.

Usually the staff would give out Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards, but Kroeze said that the coffee shop was unable to open that day.

The guests stayed until the evening hours, when MESH was able to open up its overnight respite shelter.

“It was very busy,” Kroeze said. “But you know what, the people were so grateful. It’s busy all the time. There’s no slow season. The weather just makes it more stressful, because we care about the people we serve.”

Kroeze said that the Salvation Army was in need of gift cards, including to Dunkin’ Donuts and Panera. For Panera, a minimum of $10 is needed on a card, but $5 cards are sufficient for Dunkin’ Donuts.

“They need a place to get out of the cold,” she said of the homeless.

The cold temperatures have made this winter an especially busy one for MESH, director Gwen Ames said last Thursday, adding that by 9:15 p.m. “we’re full to capacity.”

“We’re having a very harsh winter, which will make for a good spring, so I’m told,” Ames said. “But right now, I’m just trying to get through the winter.” 

MESH put out a call for donations of blankets and other items earlier in the winter. The day of the storm, Jan. 4, Ames said MESH had enough blankets. But the group is in need of cash donations, because MESH’s staff workers have been accruing overtime hours in the cold weather.

Ames also said that MESH was hoping to bring in some doctors to do wellness checks on its clients. So far this season, MESH has had to send a few people to the hospital in ambulances.

“I think that certainly MESH…is doing an outstanding job,” Baskerville said in an interview last week.

One issue that needs to be addressed is the two-hour gap between the time the daytime service groups close for the evening, and the time that the overnight respite shelters open up. Baskerville said that there had been some preliminary discussions about how to cover that gap.

Usually, MESH accommodates 20 people a night, and the numbers have been increasing in recent years. There have been some preliminary discussions with the United Way, which is interested in becoming a community partner, she said.

At the Bay Street train station, Baskerville said that she’d usually see about five people on a given night trying to seek shelter in the enclosed area between the parking deck and the platform. However, one person mentioned to her that one night, there were as many as 20 people in there.

“It’s not a good idea for us to continue having people trying to seek shelter in the station,” Baskerville said. “We don’t want them to have to stay in there.”

At this week’s council meeting, Jackson agreed with Baskerville that other towns who have residents who come to MESH should pitch in.

“I do think that Bloomfield and some of the other towns we are serving should help out with the cost,” the mayor said.

At-Large Councilman Bob Russo suggested that the township immediately increase its MESH payment to $50,000 from $35,000.

“This has been a tragic period for a lot of people,” Russo said.

But the council decided to wait before making that change so it has time to look at MESH’s needs and if money can be garnered from other towns.