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Gov. Baker: 'This is pretty much unprecedented'

Gov. Charlie Baker.Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

(State House News Service) -- Record-breaking snowfall totals are stressing roofs across Massachusetts, hurting retailers and eating into time Gov. Charlie Baker expected would be spent on his first state budget proposal and other aspects of leading the state.

"It's true for us, it's true for local officials, it's true for parents. It's true for municipalities. And I'll tell you something: The retail community, this has been a big blow to them," Baker told reporters at a televised press briefing early Monday morning.

Baker, who will confer by phone with legislative leaders on Monday, said three major storms in a span of two weeks have interrupted other initiatives he planned in his first month of office.

"Meetings have been lost. Announcements have been pushed back," Baker said at the state's bunker in Framingham. He said, "I think we've probably spent as much time on snow as we have on the budget."

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Snow days have racked up at school districts, raising the possibility of waivers for the requirement of 180 days of school in a school year.

"Maybe we'll put the 180-day requirement to a vote of the students and see what they think," Baker joked. He said, "That is a local call for the most part. We're certainly happy to engage in a conversation with them and I expect we will. But I think the 180-day requirement is a good one."

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has the authority to waive the 180-day requirement when extraordinary circumstances force a school's closure if the district makes a request in writing. In a Friday memo, he outlined how missed days can be made up in the remaining calendar, writing, "School districts may decide to cancel or shorten the April vacation period, convert scheduled professional development days into school days for students, hold school on Saturday, keep school open on Good Friday, or add days later in June beyond the originally scheduled last day of school."

Baker encouraged people to check the MBTA's website before trying to take the public transit service, which he said is running on a "very abbreviated schedule." He said he believes four localities have pursued a waiver to dump snow into "waterways and the ocean," and said state government would continue to make equipment available to municipalities after the state has completed its work.

One of the biggest challenges facing municipalities has been where to put the snow, Baker said. He said he is now concerned about roofs bearing the weight of all the snow, thanked those working to clear it, and encouraged people to shovel out fire hydrants.

"We don't know what's going to happen next week or the week after," Baker said. "It's only been 14 days folks and we've gotten 70 to 80 inches of snow around the Commonwealth. I mean this is pretty much unprecedented."

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said cities and towns have mostly calculated the cost of the late January blizzard and are sending the figures to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

"Those calculations are being processed through MEMA and will be submitted to [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] for the 75 percent reimbursement," Polito said. "That certainly will help relative to that storm."

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency reported Monday morning that snowfall expectations from the storm range from 14 to 18 inches across Boston, the North Shore, the South Shore, Worcester Hills, and parts of the Berkshires, with 20 to 24 inches possible in some areas. MEMA says much of the rest of the state will receive between 8 and 14 inches, with 4 to 8 inches expected on the South Coast, 3 to 5 inches on the Upper Cape, and 1 to 3 inches on the Outer Cape and Islands.

 
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