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Monday, November 1,2010

Defining the snow

Tonight’s Committee of the Whole will discuss the administration’s formal snow removal standards

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, Nov. 1 — The city of Lansing has come up with a set of standards that clarify city residents’ snow clearing responsibilities in light of the new snow and ice removal ordinance. However, the new standards leave out minimum snow depths for action and make residents clean up after snowplows.

There is no scheduled business on tonight’s Lansing City Council agenda, but following the meeting, the Committee of the Whole will discuss the three-page draft of standards.

The standards explain basic processes of the ordinance, answer frequently asked questions and formally define sidewalks, how you clear them and what a weather event is.

The new snow and ice removal ordinance says city residents must clear their property sidewalks within 24 hours after a “winter weather event.” If they fail to do so, the city can issue a notice, requiring them to remove the snow or ice within 24 hours after the notice is deemed received. If the snow is still not cleared, the city is authorized to do it, which costs $116.33 for the first 20 minutes of the city’s work. Every 20 minutes after that costs $48.79 each. That fee is attached to property taxes if it goes unpaid.

If residents feel they are unfairly assessed snow removal fees, they can appeal during a public hearing before the City Council, which makes a final decision.

A recurring concern expressed by city residents as the ordinance was drafted is whose responsibility it is to clear snow that gets pushed on sidewalks from plow trucks. The city says it’s the property owners’ responsibility.

“We ask our drivers to be as careful as possible but some things are un-avoidable and the streets have to get plowed. … We advise residents with sidewalks close to the street to plan appropriately when/if the snowplows throw additional snow on the sidewalk,” the draft standards say.

The standards also do not specify a minimum snow or ice depth at which residents have to take action, “because any accumulation can be hazardous.”

“Snow removal should be an ongoing task and property owners should keep a constant vigil for snow or icy conditions and not rely on the City to give them 24 hour notice of impending enforcement activities,” the standards say.

The standards also say that while the new requirements are technically always in place, they will “generally” be enforced during “normal business hours of the city.”

Residents who feel they shouldn’t have to maintain sidewalks on their property because the city does not plow their street aren’t exempt from the standards, either. The city reasons that limited funds prevent all city streets from being plowed in a timely fashion, and that plowing is for safe vehicle travel.

Sidewalks, on the other hand, are used by “all types of people during all hours of the day,” including children, the elderly and physically challenged people. “If safe passage is not maintained, this creates a hardship for people and worse yet, causes some to use the street as an alternative,” the standards say.

Residents are responsible for any sidewalk adjacent to their property, including ramps that lead down to the street. Shoveling and/or salting the full width of the sidewalk is expected within 24 hours after a “winter weather event,” which is an “event that causes snow or ice to continuously accumulate,” according to the standards.

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