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Alderman: Snow buildup presents safety hazard

Officials to discuss issue at meeting

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 8:16 a.m. CDT

ROCK FALLS – Snow buildup on some city sidewalks and parking lots is becoming a serious public safety hazard that needs to be dealt with, a city alderman says.

Fourth Ward Alderman John Watts has been urging businesses and homeowners to keep their sidewalks clear, but he fears that without a snow removal ordinance on the books, accessibility will continue to be a problem.

“We don’t have an ordinance, so you can’t really force people to clean sidewalks,” Watts said.

Huge piles of snow plowed to the far edges of parking lots along First Avenue are of particular concern, Watts said. Elderly people can be difficult to see when they wander along the busy intersections at night.

“Some [businesses] do a good job on First Avenue,” Watts said. “The vast majority have private contractors clear the parking lots, and many of them don’t clear the sidewalks after the snow is piled up.”

Similar concerns were brought up last year, and snow removal requests have been posted on the city’s Facebook page, Watts said.

The issues of residential and business snow removal were added to the agenda for today’s ordinance committee meeting, Mayor Bill Wescott said. He also said that this is not a new issue in Rock Falls.

“In years past, when I was city clerk, the issue of the city being responsible for sidewalks came up,” Wescott said.

The biggest problem with instituting an ordinance is the drain it could become on city snow removal crews, the mayor said.

“If we say it has to be cleared, and it’s a snowbird or seniors, we have to issue a ticket in all circumstances,” Wescott said. “Then we have to take city crews off other jobs to clear it. Well, it might snow again the next day, and clearing all of these sidewalks could become a big expense.”

The city has already been spending about $60,000 a year for several years to fix sidewalks to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Wescott said.

In Sterling, sidewalks are the responsibility of residents, Mayor Skip Lee said. Sterling, like Rock Falls, doesn’t have an ordinance to police that process.

“A snow removal ordinance sounds easy to do, but it’s hard to enforce,” Lee said. “We just hope people do the best they can do, especially this year when we’re running out of places to put the snow.”

A Sterling ordinance (Section 78-224) does address snow piles that obstruct vision: “... no person shall pile or cause to be piled any snow so as to obstruct the vision at any intersection of any street, avenue, boulevard or alley within the city.”

The city of Morrison actually shares responsibility for sidewalks with its residents.

While the issue is being discussed in Rock Falls, Watts and Wescott urge businesses and residents to take responsibility for maintaining accessibility, because it’s the right thing to do.

“We want people to have a little pride and help out a neighbor if they need it,” Watts said.

Ordinance committee meeting

The Rock Falls ordinance/license/personnel/safety committee meeting is 5:30 p.m. today, at the north-side meeting room at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St. 

The agenda is posted at www.rockfalls61071.com and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

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