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February 11, 2014 9:29 am

Property owners are responsible for removing snow from sidewalks

Written by Gib Mathers

Pedestrians slipping or tripping on icy sidewalks around town should know that snow removal responsibility lies with the property owner. The city of Powell will remove snow and ice on downtown sidewalks if it can, but street snow and ice removal takes precedence.

“As far as liability, the code states it is up to the property owner,” said Gary Butts, city public services manager. “The city is not the property owner of downtown walks or private residence walks.”

“Every sidewalk shall be maintained in a safe condition by the owner of the property abutting thereon, including snow removal. Snow removed from sidewalks shall not be deposited upon any city streets, alleys or rights-of-way,” reads Powell’s municipal code 12.08.060.

“This includes the downtown shops as well,” Butts said.

While it is possible to be cited and fined according to the code, “I prefer to work with the property owners to avoid that if possible,” Butts said. “We have a lot of elderly folk, or those that may be away when a storm hits.”

If snow is creating a hazard to pedestrians, the city can give the property owner notice to remove the snow. If the owner does not do it, the city can send its employees to remove the snow, and the owner will be charged for the cost of the snow removal, said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt.

If a person falls and is injured on the owner’s property, the owner could be held liable, but liability becomes a legal interpretation, said Jim Jarrett, a Powell insurance agent.

If there is snow on the sidewalk in front of Ace Hardware on Bent Street, manager Jerry Jackson said he will ask his employees to remove it if the city does not.

At least half of Ace’s customers use the back entrance from the alley facing Absaroka Street.

“That’s probably more concern for me,” Jackson said. Thawing and freezing makes it slippery. “That alley really tends to ice up.”

When a semi trailer came to deliver merchandise to Ace two or three months ago and the alley was slick with ice, Jackson called the city and asked them to spread some sand or salt. They did, he said. “Recently, we’ve been trying to salt it out there,” Jackson said.

When the city did not clear his sidewalk in front after the first big storm this winter, Jackson said he called the city asking if they would. He was told the city does clear snow from sidewalks after it has worked on the streets.

The city makes sweeps in downtown Powell when it can.

“While the city does try to help out with our sidewalk sweeper, due to scheduling or mechanical difficulties there is never a guarantee the city can sweep them,” Butts said. “Even when the city sweeps to help out, it is usually one pass and not the full walkway width.”

The city sweeper operator will sand streets first as the priority with sidewalk sweeps as secondary once the rest of the street crew arrives.

“This gives more safety overall than the other way around,” Butts said.

“Hopefully people realize they live in Wyoming, where snow and ice are a fact of life, and take the necessary precautions whether walking or driving,” he said. “The city always strives to help protect the best we can within the resources we have, but we are limited.”

Jackson said he understands if the city has budget constraints.

Some people are paid to make deliveries on foot, and they prefer snow-free passage to their curb or porch delivery destinations.

If a sidewalk, an approach to a mailbox or a drive-up approach to the mailbox is blocked by ice or snow that makes conditions unsafe for the carrier, the U.S. Postal Service has the right to hold mail until the matter is resolved, said Powell Postmaster Wendy Trautman.

The post office also can seek medical restitution from the occupant if a carrier is injured. But the post office can be held responsible if they cause damage to an occupant’s property too, Trautman said.

Mail carriers are grateful when businesses and homes keep their walks clear of snow and ice. “We appreciate people taking care of it,” Trautman said.

Shovel or sweep the sidewalk, then the sun will quickly evaporate remaining snow that clings to the concrete, Jarrett said.

“I’m a big fan of getting that stuff off as soon as you can,” he said.

Jackson always kept his sidewalks clear when he lived in town. For safety’s sake, he said it is the right thing to do.

Pedestrian, children or adults, may opt for the street if sidewalks are buried beneath a thick mantle of snow and ice. Keeping sidewalks traversable is the right thing to do. “It’s just part of being a responsible property owner,” Chief Eckerdt said.

2 comments

  • Comment Link February 12, 2014 9:02 am posted by iefbr14

    This law, although common across the country, is one of the most asinine on the books. Why not make us responsible for plowing half the street that adjoins our properties, too? You laugh, but there are laws on the books that make you make sure the alley behind your property -- which you do not own, either -- is free from weeds. Every property owner differs in his or her ability to clear snow. Some are young and fit, others old and frail. In the latter group, not all have the money to hire out the snow removal. Some are conscientious and others will do only the bare minimum to avoid a citation. and still others are absentee owners or away for prolonged periods. The result, at best, is a system where snow removal is guaranteed to be haphazard, to the detriment of pedestrians. We need a uniform approach. Just as the towns have their own snow plows, they ought to provide sidewalk snow removal. It's one of the few things where government actually does do something better than individuals.

  • Comment Link February 15, 2014 4:46 pm posted by DD McSnorkel

    Instead of removing snow from sidewalks, can't we just make snow illegal all together? I mean, let's launch a war on snow. We'll call is The War on Snow. That's a good idea.

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