February's Snows Cost State $50 Million


ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 17, 2010) - This month's back-to-back blizzards wiped out the tiny remainder of the state's snow removal budget that had survived a record December storm, leaving the Department of Transportation facing a fresh budget hole of nearly $50 million, officials said.

The department had budgeted $60 million to clear snow from state highways, ports and airports in the 2010 fiscal year, but had already spent $57 million this winter even before two recent storms dumped several more feet on much of the state starting Feb. 5, said Erin Henson, a spokeswoman.

Those two storms alone have cost the state more than $50 million, Henson said.

Even so, the snow that fell as her department was working with the General Assembly to determine its fiscal year 2011 spending plans is unlikely to change next year's snow removal budget, she said.

"It's impractical to budget for more than 40 inches of snow," Henson said.

Central Maryland typically sees only two feet of snow in an entire season. This winter, the area has seen five feet or more.

In an interview a few days before the first February snowfall, Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley said it's easier to trim budgets in the spring than to redistribute extra snow money into other projects in a year with minimal winter weather.

"Why would I over-budget for snow? Then I wouldn't have money for other things I'd need to do," Swaim-Staley said.

Nonetheless, "the concerns of the snow budget have been brought up by legislators," said Henson, the spokeswoman.

Officials said the state is hoping for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover some of its unprecedented snow removal costs, but the rest of the tens of millions would need to be cut from the transportation department's budget.

"The only place we will be able to go will be maintenance and capital projects in the spring," Swaim-Staley said.

Henson said she couldn't yet say exactly what will need to be cut.

"Our focus right now is working to clear the highways and keeping them safe," she said.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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