By John Burton
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Another snowy day, another long day plowing the streets of the borough.
Jim Phillips got up last Thursday and looked out at the weather. “I knew it would be a long day,” said Phillips, a 23-year employee of the borough’s public works department.
He began his day at 7:30 a.m., getting behind the wheel of his Ford F350 pickup truck, where he would spend much of his time. “Every day is an adventure,” he said.
Phillips’ truck, equipped with an 8-foot plow and four-wheel drive, took him around the residential areas of the approximately 1-square mile community as he moved snow from the roadways and cleared storm drains and fire hydrants.
“It really is about public safety … Keep it open, get it going,” he said of the town. “We really do do our best to help people get home safely.”
Atlantic Highlands has some very narrow streets, often with cars parked along the curbline because many homes are without driveways or don’t have enough space in driveways to get all the households’ cars out of the way.
Another issue for Phillips, his coworkers and those living on these streets is that many borough roads are incredibly steep. Phillips noted that there are points in Atlantic Highlands that are among highest on the eastern seaboard and, while they have some amazing views of Sandy Hook Bay, they also get high winds. There also are quite a few cul-de-sacs and dead–ends that also complicate getting in and getting out.
Last week, Phillips guided his plow from Lower Prospect Road to Prospect Road, a street that snaked its way upward. He explained how he would have to get a good running start to make it up the incline – even with four-wheel drive – and as he backed down the street, he would lower the 8-foot plow for drag to slow his truck. “The average car won’t make it up here if we didn’t plow,” he said as he looked at the street.
The same was true for Hook Harbor Road, equally high and difficult to maneuver. “This town is extremely vertical in sections,” he said. “If this was a flat town, it would be a heck of a lot different,” doing this type of work.
Before getting to work earlier in the day, Phillips “didn’t really know what the weather was going to do.” He was thankful when the weather started to turn to rain – but that brings its own set of problems.
Phillips and his colleagues are responsible for not only moving the snow and slush from the streets, they also have to be sure storm drains are cleared to prevent flooding. As the weather warmed slightly and rain was falling Thursday, he already noticed water making its way down the sloping streets.
“In some ways, it’s about memory,” remembering where he’d been, where he needed to return and where the storm drains were located. He did that with remarkable ease, which he attributes to years of experience.
As he made his way through the streets, he observed that “some people are at all-out war with the snow,” getting out early, shoveling and clearing their properties and vehicles.
“The big misconception is that people think we’re purposely plowing them in.”
That is certainly not the case, he maintained. Phillips and his coworkers do what they can to help people and try not to block walkway and driveways.
“We’re just trying to help people as best we can,” he said, trying to keep the roads open for them and emergency vehicles. “You know what? They deserve it the way I look at it. They’re taxpayers.”
Phillips wasn’t sure if he would have to work longer than his usual shift; that decision would be made at some point by his supervisor. Until then he said he would take it in stride, take his truck in to be checked and get a little rest for himself.
It’s been a tough winter, he acknowledged, but there have been tougher and it comes with the job.
But, there was one thing that been a bit different in recent winters, he noticed. “I got to say, I haven’t been hit by a snowball in years, in years – in years. Kids are all playing Xboxes, I guess.”