Icy sidewalks are a perennial problem in the City of Plattsburgh, where property owners are responsible for clearing those pathways within 24 hours of a storm.
And we suggest that it will continue to be an issue unless the city starts charging more than a handful of people each winter.
The problem has been acute this year due to two ice storms and a preponderance of below-zero temperatures. You practically needed a pick and sledgehammer to get the ice to budge.
But the snow and ice descended at the start of this month, and by mid-January, temperatures had risen enough to warrant flood warnings around the region. If property owners hadn’t made progress beforehand, they could have used the mild weekend of Jan. 11 and 12 to get sidewalks shoveled and de-iced.
Our reporting turned up this interesting fact: By last week, the city had asked its own crews to clear eight sidewalks and had billed the owners — about twice as many as usual.
Twice as many? If the city has forced payment from only four property owners by this stage in a typical winter, you can’t blame people for ignoring the city directive.
When the Department of Public Works has to plow sidewalks, property owners (who get a warning and chance to clear first) are charged a minimum of $175. That amount seems weighty enough.
So the problem isn’t the fine amount; it is the fact that so few owners are being assessed any penalty. If they aren’t punished for unshoveled sidewalks, they have no incentive to clear them. They obviously aren’t motivated by any concern that their inaction is forcing people to walk in the street or risk a fall on icy sidewalks.
Landlord Andrew Golt, who has always been responsible about clearing sidewalks at the properties he owns, pressed city councilors on the issue last week. He suggested the city buy a sidewalk snow-removal machine and do the job itself instead of counting on property owners.
While that might solve the problem, it would, unfortunately, create a bigger one: expense. After snowstorms, Public Work crews are busy clearing 70 miles of roads and 527 fire hydrants, so it is unlikely they could take on sidewalks expeditiously, as well, without extra personnel costs.
The City Building Inspector’s Office has fielded 42 sidewalk complaints since Jan. 1, about three times as many as usual. But only eight sidewalks have been forcefully cleared. You can see the problem.
And it’s not just a city issue. Take a look at the sidewalks on Route 3 in the Town of Plattsburgh. Someone trying to walk from the city up to the mall, for example, would have to either traverse ice and snow-heaped sidewalks or enter the street numerous times.
Unnavigable sidewalks are a significant safety concern. Fine more property owners, and they will be forced into action.