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Flurry of protest in Newton over proposed snow-shoveling law

Posted by Sarah Thomas  December 1, 2010 02:45 PM

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Newton residents have circulated a petition objecting to a proposed snow-shoveling ordinance that would fine property owners who do not clear their sidewalks within 24 hours of storms.

More than 30 residents signed the petition to the Board of Aldermen, saying the measure constitutes an unfair burden for residents.

"We appreciate this city, we believe in the community of this city and are opposed to this ordinance which seems divisive at best," said the petition, which was filed today. "This is an issue of public safety for the entire city and it would seem to make the most sense to be coordinated by the city and prioritized accordingly."

The proposed snow ordinance, which is still being debated in the public facilities and programs and services committees, would levy a $50 fine against property owners who did not shovel a 48-inch path on sidewalks on their property within 24 hours of a snow or ice storm. Volunteer snow removal help would be made available for residents who could not shovel in time and could not pay someone else to do so.

But signers of the petition questioned whether the volunteer help could be guaranteed to get to sidewalks in time to avoid fines. They also raised concerns about the amount of snow pushed into driveways and sidewalks from street plows, as well as health risks posed by snow shoveling.

"There are more than 10 of us that have recently suffered from a heart attack and advised by our physicians not to overexert ourselves when it comes to snow," the petition read. "Will the 10 volunteers that the city has signed up be able to make sure that our walks are clear within a 24 hour period?"

Some of these concerns were echoed by alderman Charlie Shapiro.

"I can't support the ordinance the way it's currently drafted," Shapiro said. "I'm not convinced it's appropriate for the city to offload its responsibility for clear sidewalks onto residents. And do we really want to give Grandma a $50 fee?"

As another condition of the ordinance, the city is adding 22 miles of new routes to the approximately 60 miles of sidewalks already plowed by the DPW. The city also plows about 300 miles of streets and 15 municipal parking lots.

Research on the city’s website says that out of 36 communities surrounding Newton, 11 have some type of ordinance requiring shoveling, including Boston, Somerville, and Chelsea.

Bob Rooney, the city’s chief operating officer, said that committee discussions of the ordinance would continue next week.

"There’s an old saying about laws and sausages; they don’t tend to look the same when they’re done as when they’re started," Rooney said. "There’s tremendous support among the Board of Aldermen philosophically for what this ordinance is trying to achieve. We just need to iron out how it’s going to be done."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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