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Letters to warn of proper snow removal operations

Snow clearing and removal turned out to be the primary issue at the City Council's Public Works Committee Wednesday.

City Engineer Reed Schwartzkopf presented a warning letter the city is sending to about 75 property owners "concerning improper and illegal snow removal operations." He told committee members he did not need their approval for the letter, but wanted them to know what his department is doing.

Last winter, Schwartzkopf said, the city worked to get the snow clearing issue resolved with businesses and private properties. He thought they'd gotten the message, but "a lot of entities are ignoring the warnings." He said some property owners or contract personnel are "not complying with policy ordinances or even common sense.

"The general idea here is the magnificent problem of getting people to not harm other people or the city," he said.

In other words, the violations have resurfaced as have other issues on snow removal.

"We need to take a more firm stance on this," said Councilman Pat Nygaard, who chairs the Public Works Committee. "Obviously, we've been lax on snow removal ordinances."

Schwartzkopf said the biggest problem appears to be snow removal from commercial properties, particularly parking lots. It's often pushed into the street, dumped into city right-of-way, including streets, alleys and ditches, or even dumped on other people's property. Clearing snow from driveways onto streets is the second biggest problem and also a violation of the ordinance. After the last couple of events, he said, a lot of snow ended up on streets and other areas it doesn't belong. He said the street department got one call to clear snow from the street in front of a property, only to discover the caller had pushed the snow there.

Schwartzkopf stressed the illegal dumping of snow in ditches, for example, can cause problems later with drainage. He said a number of businesses on his list that will receive letters have been pushing snow from their properties into nearby ditches as "they've always done." He said it clogs the drains and "adds significantly to drainage problems."

"This is the perfect time to get the point across to property owners," said Councilwoman Kelani Parisien.

Snow can be cleared from downtown sidewalks into the street before the snow is plowed, not after.

"Generally, the downtown hasn't been a problem," Schwartzkopf said.

Schwartzkopf said he's trying to establish consistency in maintaining the ordinance. Police Chief Dave Donegan agreed, saying the city needs to set the standard it wants enforced.

"In other words, if we don't like the ordinance then we need to change it or else we need to enforce it," said Councilman Ken Schulz.

With the snow issue on the floor, Mayor Clarice Liechty asked how moving parked cars along the emergency routes was going. Donegan said the situation was a little better this winter. The City Council established an ordinance that should a snow emergency be declared, cars parked along emergency routes must be moved within 48 hours.

"There have only been between 50 and 70 people not moving their vehicles," he said.

The fine is $10, but if the vehicle is not moved, it is impounded and the owner pays all the costs, Donegan said, and "quite a few have been impounded."

Councilman Charlie Kourajian asked if it was possible to move to odd-even snow clearing of streets throughout the city. Schwartzkopf said the staff is looking at options to improve snow removal.

"But we're taking baby steps," he said. "The community does not respond well to rapid change."

The mayor said she had received a number of e-mailed complaints about the city not getting snow cleared on some streets while she was out of town over Christmas.

"A lot of the complaints simply haven't been true," Nygaard said. "I've driven out within an hour of getting the complaint and looked. What they've said isn't true."

Nygaard jokingly added complaints will continue until a resident, within five minutes after the snow stops falling, can go to work, the mall and a restaurant.

Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at