News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 20, 2022
Sedgwick snow plow contractor faces questions after storm response
Has a history of complaints

by Jeffrey B. Roth

When it snows, Sedgwick residents expect town roads to be cleared efficiently and as quickly as possible, depending on the intensity of the storm.

If that doesn’t happen, residents complain to select board members, town employees and, sometimes, via a letter to the newspaper, as was the case following a recent snow storm.

“I was astounded at the condition of the Sedgwick roads on Saturday following the last big snow on Friday, January 7,” Leslie Scanlan, a Sedgwick resident, wrote in a letter to The Packet that was published on January 13. “I am shocked to see what passes for road maintenance here. I would love to understand what went wrong because it simply must be addressed…and I think we all need to know how it will be addressed in the future to insure it never happens again.”

Chadd Blanchard, who holds a five-year snow removal contract for Sedgwick, faced those exact questions, plus more, during the January 13 select board meeting. Ben Astbury, board chair, opened the discussion by stating that the purpose was “to seek solutions.”

“Although portions of this may not be considered comfortable, we intend this discussion to proceed professionally to enhance relations and performance moving forward,” Astbury said. “I’m sure you would agree that we have a job to do—we all have a job to do—snow removal is the foremost responsibility of the select board for the safety and well-being of our citizenry. Be assured, we perform our duties with an eye toward a better community.”

Winter 2020-21

The working relationship started in August 2020, when the board entered into a five-year contract agreement with Blanchard to provide snow removal services, Astbury said. That contract included a number of specific provisions, such as a requirement that the contractor have at least one load of salt delivered by October 12, 2020.

On October 15, 2020, Astbury visited the department of transportation salt and sand shed and discovered there was no salt or sand present. Astbury noted that between the time of his visit to the salt shed and November 2, he had called Blanchard and received no reply. By November 3, salt had been delivered, but, according to Astbury, the amount was less than required by the contract.

“Between December 6 [2020] and February 9 [2021], I had received approximately 45 calls with complaints,” Astbury said. “I know that a majority of the complaints stemmed from a lack of service at the beginning of the [January 18, 2021] storm.”

“On January 18, 2021, I received a call from Selectman Publicover, who advised me that he had received a complaint from the Sedgwick postmaster regarding road conditions,” Astbury said. “Publicover later confirmed that the postmaster had suspended mail service in the town due to these conditions…It goes without saying such calls are extremely rare, and I do not believe I’ve ever witnessed a suspension of mail service due to road conditions.”

Astbury said that on February 9, 2021, after discussing the complaints previously with Blanchard, another resident called to complain that the snow drifts had covered the road. Astbury said he made to calls to Blanchard about the problem but received no reply. That pattern of no responses to calls and texts continued, Astbury said.

Winter 2021-22

This year, after detailing other complaints related to delayed response times during winter storm events, issues related to meeting contract requirements pertaining to salt and sand supplies, failures to return calls and texts and other issues, Astbury told those attending the January 13 meeting that the board was faced with two basic options—cancel the contract or work with Blanchard to improve services.

“Your success is…our success,” Astbury said. “We’re all in this together.”

Blanchard, in response, said he tries to do the job as effectively and efficiently as possible. He cited labor shortages as one factor that contributed to delayed response times. In addition, Blanchard is not a Sedgwick resident, which adds commuting time to the overall equation. He noted that he has recently hired more employees.

“I line guys up and they don’t show up,” Blanchard said. “I can only do what I can do.”

Astbury said the select board wants Blanchard to succeed and is willing to help when labor shortages or other circumstances arise.

“We want to see you do good,” Astbury said. “We support you 100 percent. When I text or call, I expect a reply. A lack of communication is the worst thing.”