Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Snow Job

Another winter of our discontent.

© 2014 Luke T. Bush


Winter.  That wonderful time of the year.  Pleasantries exchanged on the street as two people walk by each other.

“Happy Holidays.”

“And Happy Holidays to you, too.”

Other pleasantries are exchanged.

CAR DRIVER: “Hey, moron, get the hell out of the road!”

PEDESTRIAN: “I would if the sidewalk wasn’t blocked with two feet of snow!  FU!”

Yes, nothing says Plattsburgh City winter than another go-around with the chronic controversy of unshoveled sidewalks and who should clear them.  City or property owners?

In the past the city has put the onus on property owners.  Any sidewalk adjacent to a property must be cleared of snow.  Get out that shovel or snowblower and do your part, citizen!  If Public Works employees have to handle the job you will be billed/fined.

Then there’s the argument that public sidewalks are public property, i.e., the city owns them.  Ergo the owner should keep them clear.

Local activist for the disabled Debra Buell through a series of emails to city officials has been pushing this point. Debra isn't just concerned about citizens with disabilities.  She wants to make sure that others using city sidewalks — such as children and senior citizens — can do so safely without being forced to walk in the street with traffic.  Doing her research she contends that the city is responsible for its sidewalks under the law. 

She became vocal on this issue after she encountered a snow-blocked sidewalk near a doctor’s office.  She uses a power wheelchair, making her situation more problematic.  She can’t afford to miss any appointments — especially doctor appointments.

The location where her way was blocked, she says, falls into an “in-between area.”   Even though the city is supposed to be "the enforcer" it's uncertain which property owner is responsible.

My POV: With its zoning board and public records the city doesn't know who owns what?  Aren't there maps and records to settle any disputes?  There shouldn't be Twilight Zone areas in the city.  If they are, then why haven't they been addressed?

An icy pathway created by people trudging on an unshoveled sidewalk.  Watch your step.

There's a story from last winter involving the CCPT public bus system and a so-called in-between area.  City snowplows would pile up snow on the sidewalk at the main bus stop near the Clinton County Government Center, creating obstacles for both riders and drivers.  People would have to walk around or climb over the obstruction to board the bus.

And why wasn’t the problem fixed?  From what I heard there was a pissing match between the city and the county, each entity saying the other was responsible.  The obstructions remained.  It’s good the city and the county were able to set aside their differences for the benefit of the citizens they were supposedly serving.

Meanwhile the city keeps delegating the snow job to its citizens.  There’s a program under the city’s auspices where able-bodied people can volunteer to remove snow for someone unable to do the task such as a senior citizen on a fixed income.  But as Debra Buell points out when a volunteer completes and signs the form he leaves the city off the hook for any injuries sustained while doing the work.  Volunteer and throw out your back?  Well, maybe the city will send you a “Get Well” card.

So would you volunteer under those conditions as an unpaid, uninsured worker?  Why are you paying taxes to the city if you're required to provide it with free work as a volunteer or property owner?

But wait until next winter.  After this latest uproar the city will have a practical solution in place by then.

Sure.  I’m betting global warming will fix problem before the city.