High tide at Devereux Beach in Marblehead

DAVID LE/Staff photo

High tide waves crash over Devereux Beach in Marblehead, spilling under the pavilion and through the parking lot on Tuesday evening.

The record amount of snow that has covered the North Shore in the past week has created a challenge — where to put it all?

Marblehead selectmen voted Wednesday morning to allow the town to dump snow in the harbor at the State Street Landing and the causeway, according to Town Administrator John McGinn.

The town has special problems when it comes to snow, McGinn said. “We’ve got a lot of narrow streets and no place to put it.” 

Marblehead has only about four square miles of land with few open spaces.

McGinn said he consulted with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Affairs and the town’s Conservation Commission, as required, following the selectmen’s vote. His contact at the DEP “got back to me and said ‘OK,’” McGinn told the News.

The town and its contractors are allowed to dump snow into the water, but private contractors are not. 

The vote to dump the snow in the harbor was driven by public safety, according to Selectman Harry Christensen. The selectman believed that the dumping is less dangerous than having street corners piled so high with snow that drivers cannot see what’s heading down the road. The vote was 4-0, with Selectman Brett Murray absent.

Christensen concedes that many of the town’s environmentally aware residents — he counts himself among them — might object to dumping snow in the harbor, but said so far he’s never gotten a complaint.

”We have done it on multiple occasions,” Christensen said.

Next door in Salem, officials say the city doesn’t need to dump snow in the ocean now, but they are pursuing the necessary permissions if that situation were to change.

Salem Public Services Director John Tomasz said in the case of emergencies — when a city or town exhausts all its inland resources — it can dump snow in or near the ocean with the approval of local and state environmental officials. Tomasz said the city already asked both the DEP and city Conservation Commission and they responded favorably, saying they would work with the city on designating a spot if necessary.

”We’re not there yet,” said Tomasz. “We still have room. This is just in case.”

Mayor Kim Driscoll explained snow removal has also become a logistical problem. Residents park in the city’s downtown lots during an emergency snow ban, but once the ban is lifted and those cars empty out, more cars fill the lots as business activity resumes. Result: plow crews still can’t clear away the snow. To that end, the city will alternately close off parking lots over the next few days.

”We can’t just cart snow downtown in the middle of the day,” she said, adding there will be a series of daytime and nighttime parking restrictions.

And she added, there’s more snow coming Thursday and over the weekend.

Michael Collins, commissioner of Public Services and Engineering in Beverly, said his city isn’t “using the ocean and have no plans to” as they continue clearing snow out of the city.

Much the same response was given by Peabody Public Services Director Bob Langley. He said the city is running out of space and actively trying to find additional spots to dump the snow, but there are no plans to utilize the city’s small stretch of riverfront.

”If we were to get to that point, we would want to work with other DPW directors and see if there’s a regional solution,” Langley said.

Danvers Public Works Director of Operations Bob Lee said the town just wouldn’t consider it. 

”We’re running out of room, but we would never consider throwing it in the ocean, or a river or a stream,” Lee said. 

He said unless another two feet of snow were to suddenly drop on the town, there should be plenty of space at Plains Park, where snow is dumped now, or town officials might look at utilizing athletic fields or space at the town’s landfill.

Staff writers Dustin Luca, John Castelluccio and Alan Burke contributed to this report.

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