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With no room to put snow, Eastern waterways beckon

BOSTON (AP) - Imagine the East Coast's largest cities mixing a
brew of salt, motor oil, trash and grocery carts and dumping it
into rivers and harbors.
It's allowed in emergency situations, and some officials staring
at massive snow mountains in densely populated areas of the
winter-walloped Northeast say that time is now, even as others warn
dumping snow in water comes with big problems.
"There's a lot of stuff in this snow that if I isolated it and
threw it in the river, you'd have me arrested," said John Lipscomb
of the New York-based environmental group Riverkeeper.
Snow from the East Coast's insistent winter is being plowed into
banks that are narrowing up roads and highway ramps like hardening
arteries, blocking drivers' sight lines, and forcing schoolchildren
to break paths like cattle down buried sidewalks. In a normal
winter, the snow melts on a good day or is carted off to designated
dumps where it eventually filters its pollutants through the earth
or is treated before ending up in sewers.
This is not a normal winter. Many East Coast cities, including
Boston, Hartford, Conn., and New York are on their way to setting
seasonal snowfall records, and the extra snow means extra road salt
and human refuse that gets swept up by plows.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency doesn't directly
regulate dumping snow but recommends against dumping it in water.
It also urges state and local governments to include snow disposal
restrictions in storm water management plans. Some states and
municipalities restrict dumping snow into waterways out of fear of
harming water life and polluting drinking water. Massachusetts is
one of them.
Even so, state Sen. Jack Hart has called for a "Boston snow
party," with snow being poured into Boston Harbor like tea was
long ago. Despite the state's long battle to clean up the
once-notoriously polluted nook of Massachusetts Bay, he's getting
support from unlikely allies.
Bruce Berman of the group Save the Harbor, Save the Bay said
that he normally wouldn't support such dumping, but that high snow
banks are making it dangerous to just move around Boston, and that
the deep and active harbor can handle it.
"When there's a compelling reason - and believe me, these
storms have given us a compelling reason - to snow dump, I support
it," Berman said.
But Boston has yet to seek to dump its snow in water. It has
found room for nearly 71 inches of snow this year, about 50 inches
more than it usually gets by this time of year, according to the
National Weather Service. New York has seen about 58 inches;
typically it has gotten 12 by now.
The hazards of too much snow mixing with a lot of humanity were
well evidenced by a blizzard that paralyzed New York after
Christmas. Many pedestrians simply gave up trying to use the
sidewalks, instead walking down the middle of partially plowed
streets. Uncollected trash piled up for days.
Ed Coletta of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental
Protection cautioned that besides the junk that ends up in snow
piles - everything from common trash to grocery carts - it can
freeze in large chunks and threaten boat traffic.
The pollutants are released when the snow melts, anyway, but
snow dumping sites, quaintly called "snow farms" in Boston,
lessen the damage, Coletta said.
Ideally, they're placed in upland areas, away from sensitive
environments, so the pollutants can be filtered out through the
soil before they reach the ocean or drinking water, he said.
Still, Coletta said his department has allowed snow dumping in
water when it's clearly the best option.
"This is an unusual year; when there's an emergency, or an
issue of public safety, the policy can be flexible," he said.
Some people don't bother to ask. In Lawrence, Mass., Mayor
William Lantigua caught a private contractor dumping truckloads of
snow in the Merrimack River late Sunday and early Monday. Police
are still investigating the possible illegal dumping, and no
charges have been filed.
According to the police report, the contractor said he "knew it
was wrong, but stated, 'It's just too much snow. Where else can I
put it?"'
That question hit Waterbury, Conn., public works director John
P. Lawlor Jr. after the lot he uses for dumping filled up for the
first time ever.
"We could not squeeze another mouthful of snow there," he
Lawlor figured he'd never be allowed to dump in the water, so he
brought in a snow-melting machine from the Ohio company Snow
Dragon, and it's clearing the downtown area over the next few days.
Other cities, including Minneapolis, use the company's machines.
New York also trucks its snow to melters, which empty the water
into the sewer system, then to treatment plants, where many
pollutants are removed.
Snow Dragon's most popular machine costs $230,000 and measures
about 27 feet long, 8 feet wide, and more than 8 feet high, said
Jennifer Binney, director of sales and marketing. It melts 30 tons
of snow an hour and discharges it, debris-free, into the storm
drains, she said.
As well as it works, Binney noted, "It will never replace
That leaves large bodies of water as alluring dumping spots when
the snow seems too high.
Expediency is no excuse to dump snow in water, said Anthony
Iarrapino, an attorney with the environmental group the
Conservation Law Foundation. The pollution problems are so severe
that it should be considered only if there's really no other
Still, he conceded, "if the snow continues as it is, you may be
reaching that tipping point."
Associated Press writer David Caruso in New York contributed to
this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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