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N.Y. blizzard fallout: One highway official resigns, 2 suspended

February 14, 2013|By Marisa Gerber
  • Last weekend, more than 30 cars were stuck overnight along Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook, N.Y., on Long Island's North Shore during a blizzard. Some motorists spent the night in their vehicles until rescue workers arrived.
Last weekend, more than 30 cars were stuck overnight along Nesconset Highway… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

As the flurry of complaints about Blizzard of 2013 cleanup pile up in eastern New York, some local officials find their jobs in jeopardy.

Four days after the blizzard began and two days after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent more than 400 snowplows and 700 workers to help dig out Suffolk County, conditions on the main avenue in front of the restaurant Lisa Steffens manages in Ronkonkoma were still worse than any she’d seen in more than a decade.

"Oh my God, it was so bad,” Steffens said of Hawkins Avenue, a  main thoroughfare off the Long Island Expressway. “Customers were getting stuck in their cars. We were getting stuck. There was a layer of ice and snow.”

Steffens arrived at BLD's Restaurant each morning to the sight of cars swerving along the ice and the sound of employees calling the town to ask when the road would be plowed.

“They said they’d get to us when they can,” Steffens said. “And I said, ‘When you can? It will melt before. The sun will get here first.' ”

Amid an onslaught of complaints from citizens and business, the nearby town of Brookhaven announced Wednesday that its acting highway superintendent, Michael Murphy, had resigned. Brookhaven officials didn’t return a call for comment.

"Had the acting highway superintendent done his job, we could have shaved a lot of time off the cleanup,” Councilman Daniel Panico told a local news station.

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine is also in hot water for what he did during the blizzard -- he vacationed in Jamaica.

Some state officials are getting scrutiny for their post-storm efforts, too.

Subimal Chakraborti, the Department of Transportation’s regional director for Suffolk and Nassau counties, spent the work week at home, "devastated" at the news of his suspension, according to his attorney, Howard Rubin.

While the department wouldn’t comment or confirm that Chakraborti and another department employee had been suspended, Rubin said his client got an email late Saturday asking him not to report to work until further notice and that he’d been “relieved of his duties.”  His client called the department to ask why he’d been suspended. The department’s response, he said: “We’ll be in contact with you.”

Rubin acknowledges that tough decisions about the allocation of resources had to be made after the storm, but he emphasized that his client didn’t make them alone.

The decision to prioritize clearing the major roads leading toward New York City before the ones in smaller communities was made along with his superiors, Rubin said, calling his client a scapegoat.

“It was a knee-jerk reaction,” Rubin said. “He’s devastated. He’s a guy who takes his job very seriously."

Under state law, Chakraborti can be suspended for 30 days without pay as he awaits a hearing, Rubin said.

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com

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