23 Aug 2014
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LETTER: Watertown Needs a Snow Shoveling Ordinance

Seeing the many sidewalks still not shoveled around town shows the need for a requirement for residents to clear snow, John MacNeill writes.

LETTER: Watertown Needs a Snow Shoveling Ordinance




Four days after the big storm and way too many Watertown property owners still haven't shoveled their sidewalks. Roads are only partially plowed, leaving no room for pedestrians who're forced to walk in the street.

This problem comes up year after year but nothing is done about it. Snow and ice covered sidewalks are a hazard for emergency personnel, postal workers, commuters who need to reach their bus stops, and children walking to school. Cunniff School, for example, has no bus service and not everyone has an extra car to drive. Young kids shouldn't have to risk injury just to get to school.

In 2010 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned 125 years of legal precedent and ruled that all Massachusetts property owners are legally responsible for the removal of snow and ice from their property. It's time for Watertown to pass a town shoveling ordinance so enforcement of this rule isn't up to injured pedestrians filing lawsuits against negligent property owners.

There are a few reasonable objections to an ordinance. Town plowing contractors use corner lot sidewalks to pile street snow, a shoveling ordinance could require contractors to plow the streets without piling the snow on people's sidewalks. Elderly homeowners who can't shovel themselves could get a small property tax break to cover the cost of hiring people. Police obviously can't be expected to patrol the whole town on foot to inspect the sidewalks, but neighbors or pedestrians can easily call in the problems as they find them.

Most of the snow covered sidewalks aren't corner-lots or elderly folks. They're people who just can't be bothered, only shoveling from their front door to their driveway. One ticket from the WPD would take care of a lot of that. Winter isn't going to just go away and neither is this problem. It's up to the Town Council to deal with it, preferably before somebody gets killed.


John MacNeill

Nyack Street, Watertown

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