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Snow-Shrouded Cities Croon They've Got Cold Storage Blues

CITIES and towns across the Northeast are singing the ColdStorage Blues.

Faced with snowfall after snowfall, local officials are moaning about the growing glaciers on their curbs. The common refrain in this song: ''We're running out of room.''

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Take Boston College in Massachusetts, for example. With 25 miles of roads and 50 miles of sidewalks, BC is rapidly filling its baseball and soccer fields. The lacrosse field is next. ''It's a real problem,'' groans Stephen McGrath, an administrator in the buildings and grounds department.

It's worse in Buffalo, where Old Man Winter has deposited at least 7-1/2 feet of snow - equal to the annual average - without any significant thawing. Vincent LoVallo, commissioner of street sanitation, describes snow piled eight feet high outside his own driveway. ''It's a sight to behold,'' he says.

In some communities in upstate New York, snow piled high along the streets poses a potential safety problem.

''In the suburban and urban areas, we are running out of places to put the snow, especially where we have six-lane highways and no shoulder,'' laments Lee Caulkins, a regional engineer with the New York State Department of Transportation in Buffalo, N.Y.

''That's the problem with built-up metropolitan areas, where some places are no longer allowed to dump it in the river. There's no energy-efficient way to get rid of it,'' says Richard Armstrong, a research professor with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Mr. Armstrong used to live in Andermatt, Switzerland, in the Alps. Rather than plow the snow off sidewalks, he says, the residents tunnel through it. ''There are all these little by-ways connecting the houses,'' he recalls.

Tunneling is not a viable prospect in most American cities, however. So, officials are hunting far and wide for abandoned property and empty manufacturing facilities where they can store the snow. Trenton, N.J., is dumping its snow in the Thunder's baseball stadium. Buffalo is considering an unused steel plant.

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Boston's Logan Airport has come up with a unique solution: It melts the snow that accumulates around the busy ramps and on the top of parking garages. The snow is plowed into piles and pushed into snow melters that operate at 50 degrees. With 19 heaters, the melters dissolve about 80,000 tons per hour. The water is filtered before it is shipped to the bay.

The city of Boston is hauling snow to vacant lots. But even the big cities with lots of abandoned property at their disposal risk running out of room.

''Would we run out of space if mother nature keeps pounding away on us?'' asks Boston Public Works Commissioner Joseph Casazza. He answers his own question with absolute certainty: ''Sure.''

EVEN some rural areas such as Otis, Mass., situated in the Berkshire Mountains, are having difficulty finding places to put the snow. Road crews are dumping it down ravines, into creeks, and onto fallow fields.

In Philadelphia, cleanup crews are dumping truckloads into the Schuykill River. In Charleston, W.Va., some of the frozen precipitation is landing in the Kanawha River.

The frozen Big Apple has declared an emergency and received a state waiver so it can dump some of its 100 million tons of snow into its rivers. Environmentalists, however, have serious concerns about this practice. ''It's not just snow,'' explains Andy Willner, an environmentalist based in Sandy Hook, N.J.

Mixed into the white stuff is street grit, salts that vary from the salt that naturally occur in the rivers, toxins, and possibly bags of garbage. ''Does the state have the authority to give permission to the city to ignore its environmental rules?'' Mr. Willner asks.

Marcy Benstock, a New York City environmental activist, is concerned that the dumping might harm the juvenile striped-bass population, which winters along the banks of the Hudson River as it sweeps past Manhattan. ''Lower Manhattan is the last place where snow should be dumped even if it is dumped elsewhere,'' she states.

With so much snow around, it's likely the snow stacks will still be around in the spring - and perhaps as late as June.

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