Public works powers through virus challenge

James Neiss/staff photographerDPW Clean Team members James Dolson, Tyshawn Armstrong and Philip Harvey remove debris along Bloneva Bonst Street in 2019.

Mike Mills isn't a health care worker.

He's not a cop or a firefighter or an EMT.

But Mills, and his team, have been at work since the novel coronavirus pandemic first arrived in the Falls. He heads up the Clean Neighborhood program in the Niagara Falls Department of Pubic Works and he's also the city's primary contact with Modern Corp., the city's garbage and recycling contractor.

Without Mills, and his workers, city officials say the Falls would be a scruffy, dirty place. That makes Mills the definition of an essential worker and a "Hometown Hero."

"They're out there providing services to the residents," City Administrator Anthony Restaino said. "(Mills) does a yeoman's job working with the public. He takes (his job) to heart."

Cleaning up an average of 400 vacant or neglected properties a year, in addition to dozens of city owned lots, Mills admits he's never short on work to get done.

"There would be so much garbage everywhere," Mills said, when asked what would happen in the pandemic shut his team down.

As it is, the team is running with a crew of just three, down from 10 last summer, but that hasn't slowed them down.

"They've been going out picking up a lot of illegal dumping in alleys and vacant lots," Mills said. "We've been filling two 60-yard dumpsters every other day. That's a lot of garbage."

Even in a pandemic, Restaino said, it's important for the city to stay clean.

"Those are essential services," Restaino said. "And it's even more important during a time like this."

Notwithstanding social distancing and people staying home under the New York on PAUSE executive order, Mills said his team continues to battle trash in every part of the city.

"I don't know if people don't care or what," he said, "but we're picking up garbage constantly in the City of Niagara Falls."

The job is made even more challenging by the danger of novel coronavirus contamination.

"We try to keep the team as safe as we can and give them the equipment they need," Mills said. "And we've got all the staff back (at DPW headquarters on New Road). There are a lot of people who make DPW what it is."

Recommended for you