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As Alaska Weather Arrives in D.C., Begich Considers Snow Readiness

With heavy snowfall predicted, the D.C. government plans to declare a snow emergency beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Until it’s lifted, drivers risk a $250 ticket and a $100 tow fee for parking in a snow emergency route as teams from the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) and the D.C. Department of transportation attempt to clear the streets from curb to curb.

It’s a phenomenon Alaska Sen. Mark Begich watched once before, during the massive “snowmageddon” of 2010, and he has offered practical ideas on how the city should respond this time around.

The Democrat, who served five years as mayor of Anchorage before joining the Senate, is plenty familiar with blizzard conditions and plows. Begich was baffled by D.C.’s snow removal strategy “which caused more problems for emergency vehicles and other things,” he said during a July hearing on emergency preparedness in the District.

When snow comes, “basically everyone starts to abandon the city,” the chairman of the D.C.-focused panel of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee observed. “And what’s unique about that is every government parking lot is now empty. Why don’t we have a plan that says for citizens, like zone six, zone three, whatever, these are your designated parking locations in a snow disaster? So they’re empty; don’t park on the street. You will park in this, you know, area.”

Begich directed his questions to Christopher Geldart, director of the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA).

Geldart accepted the senator’s offer to talk to the General Services Administration about filling federal parking lots with local drivers’ cars during an extreme weather situation, calling it a “great idea.”

He also credited “Snow Czar” Bill Howland, director of the DPW, for making great progress on snow strategy since the legendary snowfall of 2010.

Geldart also warned that “getting the availability to use the parking lots may become a lot easier than convincing people that they need to park there, instead of right in front of their homes.”

The Senate held another hearing on extreme weather Wednesday, but the impending snowstorm got only a passing reference.

A Begich staffer confirmed to CQ Roll Call that HSEMA and federal officials from GSA held preliminary discussions about cooperating and sharing resources during snow emergencies after the July hearing.

The two agencies agreed to work together to figure out if the use of federal government parking lots for emergency parking would be feasible on a case-by-case, or storm-by-storm basis.

Begich still thinks it’s a practical solution that should be considered based on the input of residents and city officials, the staffer said.

Howland sounded confident about the city’s preparedness on Wednesday.

“We are ready, our equipment is ready and we have plenty of salt,” he said in a release. “Of course, if enough snow accumulates, we will plow the streets.”

According to the staffer, Begich is “looking forward to a little bit of Alaska weather” here in D.C.

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