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Mystic - As the snow fell on Friday, Jan. 3, a member of the Downtown Mystic Merchants association called the Groton Town Public Works Department to find out when the snow plowed into the parking spots along West Main Street would be removed.
"Not until Monday" was the response of the woman who answered the phone, according to Judy Hartley, the president of the merchants group.
Customers and tourists alike were unable to find parking over the weekend because of the snow-filled parking spots, a problem that did not exist in downtown Westerly and New London, said Hartley, who visited those two locations.
So on Jan. 8 she fired off a sharply worded letter to all members of the newly elected Groton Town Council looking for answers about who made the decision and why. The merchants also asked for the councilors' help so it does not happen again.
"It is a sad statement to our residents and visitors that Downtown Mystic which receives the most amount of visitors in the whole state can not clear snow from their parking spaces until several days after the snow stopped falling. This should be an embarrassment the Town quickly remedies," Hartley wrote.
A week after she emailed the letter, Hartley said several councilors have called and emailed her offering their assistance and willingness to meet with the merchants to discuss the snow removal issue and any other concerns they have. One even offered to help shovel. Hartley said she will invite them to an upcoming merchants meeting.
"The response from the new council has been a great," she said Tuesday. "As soon as they received the letter, they were rapid to respond."
She added in her letter that merchants are seeking help from the newly elected council "because our efforts with Town Administration and past Councils have been futile."
Hartley said while merchants are vigilant about clearing snow from their sidewalks, they do not believe they should have to shovel snow from parking spots on the street. "There's lot of people who are trying to get to the bottom of this issue to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.
Town Manager Mark Oefinger could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In her letter, Hartley explained that while the state Department of Transportation does an acceptable job clearing West Main Street, a state road, it does not clear the snow from the parking spaces. That job, she said, is handled by the town's public works department.
"As has happened with every snow storm since the creation of the Downtown Streetscape, this removal of snow to clear the parking spaces did not take place until three days after the storm passed. That resulted with a weekend of no availability for anyone to park downtown on the street. Although this is our slow season we still have to pay rent. Since almost all of our business is conducted on weekends this time of year, we were once again compromised by the Town's inability to clear snow from downtown Mystic," she wrote.
She then asked several questions she said the council needs to address.
These include who designed the new streetscape project in a way that the town "appears to be incapable of addressing in an efficient manner?"
The streetscape work took longer than expected and caused traffic and parking problems. Hartley wrote that it caused the downtown to lose more than seven businesses.
" We are all still fighting to regain what we had prior to the streetscape project. The current problem with uncleared parking spaces continues our plight," she wrote. "Must the Downtown Mystic Merchants always pay the price for poor planning and execution of Town projects and their subsequent inability to maintain what other communities handle efficiently?"