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.




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

JC February 15, 2013 at 03:52 PM
Have you tried walking along the park on Westminster? The town has not cleared those. Why would residents clear their sidewalks if the town can't be bothered?
Carolyn A. Gritter February 15, 2013 at 06:49 PM
By all means Watertown should have a shoveling ordinance. Boston, where I lived for more than 30 years, has one. Residents on my block helped each other. What sense does it make to shovel just to your property line and stop as some residents do? It's a simple matter of urging a recalcitrant neighbor to shovel or assisting with the job if the neighbor is unable to clear their walk.
PAUL CASELLA February 15, 2013 at 07:32 PM
NO we dont need an ordinance . what we need is competent plow drivers who realize streets are 2 lanes wide and not one. they leave snow banks 5 feet from the curb so they dont damage the vehicles. Put the blame where it belongs. DPW managrment
John DiMascio February 16, 2013 at 07:35 AM
Watertown has repeatedly rejected such and ordinance at least 4 times in the past decade. The last vote was 7 to 2 opposed. In it not practical, it its not enforceable. Moreover, it is simply wrong to require someone to do work for no wage on someone else's property. People should as a matter of good practicing good citizenship, voluntarily shovel sidewalks locate in front of their residence. But it's not their property, hence it should not be their responsibility. Yes, yes, I know some there have been some crazy court rulings (in Massachusetts) holding private property owners responsible for people who may slip and fall on town owned property. Those rulings clearly violate the 13th Amendment. Forcing someone to work for now wages on someone else's property is forced labor. There is no other way to describe it. Such an ordinance makes a much sense as forcing someone to fill in pothole located in front of their house. The town owns the side walks, it's the town's responsibility to clear them, not private property owner. The Watertown Town Council has rejected this nonsense in the past and will continue to do so in future.
wiley coyote February 16, 2013 at 01:29 PM
What vehicles are you talking about? The vehicles that negligent owners failed to get off the streets so the roads could be plowed? The DPW workers do a great job working around all kinds of obstacles. It's so easy to point the finger when you are not the one who is dealing with it. Maybe you should conduct a class on proper plowing?
PAUL CASELLA February 16, 2013 at 01:58 PM
what obstacles.come to the west end and ,see for your self. private contractors plow one lane wide.as far as teaching , i plowed for years.it all falls on dpw for hiring the subs.
Jeremy February 16, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Watertown should absolutely require residential property owners to clear the snow from the sidewalks outside their homes. It's an issue of public safety.
wiley coyote February 16, 2013 at 03:48 PM
And thats why every winter you see different subs, Because they don't work out. So the DPw does handle it. but do not take it out on the DPW workers who are out there every storm. The familiar contractors you see every year are the ones that do a good job.,You plowed for years? then hire on again and do the great job that you used to do. Watertown needs people like you in storms like this.
Carolyn A. Gritter February 16, 2013 at 07:53 PM
I suppose Mr. DiMascio is prepared for a substantial increase in property taxes to pay for the legends of shovelers that would be needed to clear walkways and for the purchase of snow removal equipment such as snow blowers and SnoCats. Forcing pedestrians to put themselves at risk by walking in the street because of uncleared sidewalks is unacceptable. Since Mr. DiMascio does not want to work for no pay, he should hire someone who would do the job for wages.


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