Milwaukee's commissioner of Public Works on Wednesday defended his department's work to remove snow and ice from city streets this winter, despite criticism from some aldermen.
In testimony before the Public Works Committee, Commissioner Jeff Polenske said Milwaukee received a large amount of snowfall in a short time this winter, and said bitterly cold temperatures and freezing rain quickly froze everything over.
As a result, rock-hard piles of snow and ice still can be spotted protruding out onto streets around the city.
"I think the Department of Public Works has been out working very hard to keep these streets clear," Polenske said.
DPW last week extended some winter parking regulations, which normally end March 1, until March 15.
"I think the Department of Public Works has been out working very hard to keep these streets clear." — Jeff Polenske, commissioner of Public Works
The department said the extension was to ensure the city's narrowest streets remain passable for vehicles — especially emergency response vehicles.
But Alderman Bob Bauman said the extension was the result of poor plowing efforts by DPW this winter.
"You're literally saying, 'We'll wait for Mother Nature to solve the problem,' " Bauman said.
Bauman questioned why the city couldn't use front-end loaders to clear existing piles of ice.
DPW officials said most front-end loaders are operated by private contractors whom the city pays to clear areas such as dead ends and bus stops.
"You've had no significant snowfall for the last two weeks. Why weren't those contracted end loaders out there doing the cleanup?" Bauman asked DPW officials.
"Because those aren't the service agreements we have in place," replied Laura Daniels of the Department of Public Works.
"You've had no significant snowfall for the last two weeks. Why weren't those contracted end loaders out there doing the cleanup?" — Alderman Bob Bauman
"Then amend those service agreements," Bauman said.
"That's why I'm here. What do you want the service level to be?" Daniels said.
"You've been hearing this for two weeks," Bauman said. "It's defiance. It's just (DPW) saying, 'We're not going to react.' "
Bauman said he expects to see front-end loaders out clearing ice by Thursday.
Polenske didn't commit to that.
"Part of that is reaching out to private contractors, and I can't predict exactly what kind of response we'll get from them," he said.