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Mobtown Beat

Snow Blind

City Dumps Dangerous Piles of Snow Next to Residential Co-Op

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 2/26/2003

As roads clear and most Baltimoreans begin to feel some relief from last week's debilitating snow storm, the residents of one West Baltimore community fear that the city's solution to its snow dilemma might be their biggest headache yet.

City work crews have piled much of the snow they have collected from city streets on to two vacant lots in the 700 to 1000 blocks of West Baltimore Street in Sowebo. The Office of Transportation, which is in charge of Baltimore's snowplowing operation, piled tons of snow into the lots and created mountainous drifts of ice, dirt, and garbage that rose up to 20 feet high. The city also dumped snow in a vacant lot in Oldtown, but the Sowebo lots were the primary snow depository. Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes says these city-owned lots were chosen because "it's a wide-open lot. We live in a city. It's close density. We don't have open farmland so we have to identify locations that are open that are not around a lot of residential areas." When asked if the city informed residents before the dumping began, Barnes responded, "There's no residents in that area, it's a commercial area."

In fact, there are residents whose homes directly adjoin the soaring peaks and deep valleys of filthy snow, which are littered with empty bottles, blankets, old newspapers, and slabs of wood jutting out at menacing angles. North Poppleton Street, which bisects the dumping site, is the home of the Poppleton Cooperative of townhouses and apartments, and residents of the co-op are concerned about their homes.

Like many of her neighbors, Audrey Robinson, a 63-year-old dietician assistant at Johns Hopkins Hospital and president of the Poppleton Co-op, is concerned about flooding. "Can those lots contain all this water once it starts to melt?" she asks. "I've had water come in before when it rains hard enough."

On Friday, Feb. 21, when it started raining, Poppleton was already a puddle of mud, making it difficult for residents to get to the bus stop at Poppleton and Baltimore streets.

The city-constructed glaciers create other safety concerns as well. The high drifts are pocked with hollows hidden from view, and neighborhood residents are concerned that they will attract criminal activity. Already, an abandoned and possibly stolen car has been spotted in the drifts. But the residents are especially worried about the safety of neighborhood children, as there is no fence to keep them off the piles. "You know how kids are," Robinson says. "They will get up there and start playing up on top of those mounds. Somebody could get hurt."

The dumping began on Wednesday, Feb. 19, and continued until Friday morning. National Guard trucks full of snow barreled day and night down narrow Poppleton Street, which Robinson says was plowed by Poppleton Co-op's maintenance crew--not the city. The noise kept many in the neighborhood awake as their homes shook from the weight of the trucks. "Three o'clock, I looked out here on this street, there was seven trucks parked waiting to dump. Three o'clock in the morning," Robinson says of early Friday morning. "They've been running these trucks through here 24 hours a day. Every time you think you're going to go to sleep, you're not." The trucks also knocked out a pedestrian-crossing light, and disabled traffic lights at Baltimore and Poppleton streets.

The Office of Transportation says the snow poses no threat to the neighborhood. "If there was a safety issue, then we would be very hesitant about putting it there," Barnes says. "We've gone through great precautions to make sure that that area will be safe."

But Robinson and her neighbors are still concerned. "I'm not going to say that shouldn't have been done because we had an awful lot of snow," she says. "But I think it could have been done in a better way."

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