Tisbury anticipates clean roads with new street sweeper

Left over from a snowy winter, accumulations of sand on this Skiff Avenue bike path and other Tisbury roadways has been a hazard for bicyclists. — Photo by Janet Hefler

Although summer has melted memories of a long, snowy winter, the sand that kept Tisbury roads passable back then remains an unpleasant reminder, built up in stretches along the shoulders and in gutters on many town streets.

In years past, as an annual rite of spring, the Tisbury department of public works (DPW) rolled out its street sweeper to clean up winter debris. This year, new DPW director Glenn Mauk found himself stymied by a lack of equipment and money in the budget.

For more than a decade, the DPW relied on an old street sweeper that the department rebuilt around 2002. Although the DPW purchased another sweeper around 2006, the department continued to use its vintage sweeper for the bulk of the street-cleaning work because it did a better job picking up heavier debris, former DPW director Fred LaPiana previously told The Times.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mauk learned after he was hired on January 3 that the town no longer had a reliable heavy-duty street sweeper. He also found there was no money available in the DPW’s fiscal year 2014 budget, which was appropriated prior to his employment, to hire a private street sweeping contractor. Although voters at town meeting in April approved a DPW request for $180,000 to buy a new one, the funds were not available until the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

In the interim, Mr. Mauk was left to address the sand issue as best he could as summer ramped up and placed increased seasonal demands on his department’s manpower and equipment for landscaping, road repairs, and municipal trash pickup, to name just a few.

DPW personnel have been sweeping and shoveling sand by hand from portions of town streets. Mechanical help is on the way.

Tisbury selectmen last week voted to approve municipal finance director Tim McLean’s recommendation that the town do “internal borrowing” to allow Mr. Mauk to purchase a street sweeper and other equipment for the DPW, in advance of obtaining financing.

“If we have free cash or money in the town’s stabilization fund, the Department of Revenue lets us borrow the town’s own money until we can go out and get financing in August, in order to let Glenn get the equipment now,” Mr. McLean explained. “We’ll do internal borrowing for five weeks or so until the actual money comes in.”

Cyclists navigate sandy shoals

Tisbury’s street sweeper dilemma came to light in a recent email exchange with Danielle Zerbonne, a Times staff member who often rides her bike to work via Skiff Avenue.

“I’ve been waiting and wondering about when the streets of Vineyard Haven (Skiff Ave., for example) were going to be cleaned of their winter sand, but now it’s nearly the end of June,” Ms. Zerbonne said in an email to Mr. Mauk dated June 24.

“Skiff Ave. has been designated as a bike ‘lane’, yet shoulders of both sides of the road are very sandy on much of the street. It’s very hazardous for bikers as they try to avoid riding in the street with the cars.

“I know some streets were done, but I think Skiff remains pretty dangerous in that respect.”

Ms. Zerbonne said she was impressed that not only did Mr. Mauk reply to her email, but did so on the same day she sent it.

“The Tisbury Department of Public Works (DPW) owns a TYMCO Regenerative Air Street Sweeper that is not capable of removing sand from the town streets,” Mr. Mauk said in his email response. “In fact, I believe that it is fair to say that the town’s street sweeper is completely non-functional.”

Mr. Mauk also explained that the DPW had been shoveling sand by hand. “For instance, this was done along portions of the route used by Tisbury school children during their ‘March to the Sea,'” Mr. Mauk said, in reference to a Memorial Day commemorative parade on May 23. “However, given the limited manpower of the DPW, it would be impossible to hand sweep and shovel sand from all town streets.”

Mr. Mauk added, “The DPW’s plan is to obtain a new street sweeper as quickly as legally possible and to immediately commence sweeping every town street.”

A clean sweep

The approved capital expenditures article authorized the town to borrow $350,000 for the DPW to purchase, in addition to the sweeper, a four-wheel-drive pickup truck with snowplowing capability, landscape trailer, snow pusher attachment for a hydraulic loader, dumping stake body truck, and catch basin cleaning equipment.

According to a brochure, the Elgin Pelican sweeper previewed at town meeting has a unique single-engine three-wheel design, 360-degree visibility, and a 9,000-pound capacity hopper. The Elgin Sweeper Company also offers training on the sweeper’s proper use and maintenance throughout its lifetime.