BROOKHAVEN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Brookhaven’s town supervisor said he is sorry that a “failure took place” by the highway department in its response to a massive winter storm last week that dumped 30 inches of snow on Long Island.
Town Supervisor Edward Romaine spoke out for the first time Thursday after returning from vacation in Jamaica on Wednesday. Many have criticized Romaine for being away while Brookhaven residents were digging out from under nearly three feet of snow.
“I want to say the people of Brookhaven that I am sorry that the storm happened and I am particularly sorry that I wasn’t here when it occurred,” Romaine said.
Romaine added that he was “in constant contact” with his staff while away.
“When I left last week, there was just a warning of a storm,” he told reporters on Thursday. “On Friday when I called, my staff told me they had met with personnel from the highway department and that the highway department had assured them they were prepared for this storm.”
Romaine placed blame on the highway department for roads being left unplowed for days. Although the department is an independent entity that the town does not have authority over, he said it “concerns me that they failed.”
“To all the residents of Brookhaven, your loss, your frustration, your anger for those who had to wait until Monday or Tuesday is understandable,” he said. “When I say I feel your pain, it rings hollow but I can only say how sorry I am that a branch of government failed us.”
Following his statement to the press, Romaine did allow one-on-one interviews with reporters.
Romaine told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan that he decided to stay in Jamaica because in addition to staying in constant contact with other officials, he noted that most flights into JFK International Airport were canceled.
Romaine said he would have rescheduled the personal trip had he known Suffolk would be pummeled with three feet of snow.
But critics said he should have stayed home, declared an emergency and led the way.
Acting Superintendent of Highways Michael Murphy resigned Wednesday amid mounting criticism over how the storm was handled. He called in sick and missed four days of work because he said he had a root canal and a family emergency.
“Our town supervisor was in the Caribbean and our acting superintendent of highways was out with a toothache or something,” said Brookhaven Town Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld. “I mean, how crazy is that, during the blizzard.”
Romaine said the city deployed as many trucks as it could after the storm and reached out to the state and New York City for additional resources.
But Fiore-Rosenfeld said the slow response could have cost residents their lives.
“I had people in Stony Brook who had heart attacks. They had to put them on stretchers and literally sled them down the driveway and down the block because of a lack of executive leadership,” he said.
Brookhaven alone is as geographically large as Nassau County with 380 square miles of roads to clear. With an area that large, Romaine said more needs to be done to prevent something like this from happening again in the future.
“We are going to do a top to bottom review of this situation — of the equipment, the deployment and the communications,” he said.
Eleanor and Daniel Rogers of Middle Island, angry with the mismanagement of the snow removal, marched into Town Hall Thursday to complain in person, McLogan reported.
“He thought that his well-being on vacation was more important than 30 inches of snow,” Daniel Rogers said.
“The highway superintendent had a toothache and couldn’t come to work. My husband had a toothache and couldn’t get out of the house,” Eleanor Rogers added.
Romaine told CBS 2’s McLogan that he has no plans to resign but said, “I had a miserable time [on vacation], if that is any consolation.”
First Deputy Superintendent of Highways John Capella has taken over for Murphy as acting superintendent. Romaine said a March 5 special election has been scheduled to elect a new superintendent.
Meanwhile, New York state has suspended two Transportation Department officials amid criticism of their snow removal efforts on Long Island.
Suffolk DOT Regional Director Subimal Chakraborti has been suspended for 30 days without pay, his attorney Howard Rubin told 1010 WINS.
Rubin said he thinks his client is being used as a scapegoat.
“I’m anxious to see what they think he should have done differently and how they expressed that to him…because the governor was down here, the commissioner, the assistant commissioner and no one ever complained about what was being done until they started getting complaints from eastern Suffolk County,” he said. “At that point, the roads were clear in the rest of the region.”
Transportation Maintenance Engineer Rich Causin was also suspended, Rubin said.
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