, Salem, MA

February 15, 2013

Our view: Salem should ease up on shovel-weary residents

The Salem News

---- — Last weekend’s blizzard was rough enough for North Shore residents, dropping more than 20 inches of snow across the region — more than 2 feet in some parts of Salem, according to unofficial reports. Gale-force winds helped shape that snow into mountainous drifts that buried cars in driveways and made sidewalks and roads all but impassable.

The situation was so dire that Gov. Deval Patrick banned all nonessential drivers from the roads over much of the weekend, threatening scofflaws with a $500 fine and the potential of a year in jail.

All weekend and into the beginning of the week, local officials pleaded with residents for tolerance and cooperation as they worked to clear streets, sidewalks and parking lots of snow. Boston Mayor Tom Menino went so far as to apologize for the pace of his city’s removal efforts, saying, “Sometimes you have to be patient in a storm of this magnitude.”

All in all, a big storm. Historic, even.

So Salem residents must have been shocked to learn they are being fined for not clearing the sidewalks in front of their homes quickly enough to satisfy city officials.

City inspectors started handing out $25 tickets Tuesday. About 200 residents were expected to be ticketed by the end of the day yesterday.

So much for patience. So much for cooperation.

We agree with Tom St. Pierre, Salem’s director of inspectional services, when he says, “We want pedestrians up on the sidewalk and off the street.”

Clear sidewalks are a safety issue, and the city has an ordinance forcing home and business owners to remove snow from sidewalks within six hours after a storm has ended or the snow emergency lights have been turned off. In most cases, it’s a reasonable request.

But this was no regular winter storm, and even city officials will admit their plows dumped a daunting amount of snow on sidewalks. Residents — most of whom had to return to work on Monday — don’t have access to bucket loaders and other big equipment the city uses. (And it’s worth noting there was so much snow a few city plows caught fire trying to keep up.)

Rather than fining residents, Salem officials should have followed the example of their counterparts in Peabody, which also has an ordinance requiring residents to clear the city sidewalks in front of their homes.

“We’re not issuing civil fines here in Peabody as of yet,” Deputy police Chief Scott Carrier told reporter Tom Dalton on Wednesday.

Rather, city inspectors and police are writing warning letters and knocking on doors to remind residents of their responsibility.

“Due to the nature of the storm, we’re trying to work with residents and businesses,” Carrier said. Fines are a last resort.

That seems to be a reasonable approach, balancing the need for safe streets with the ability of residents to comply with the city ordinance.

The Blizzard of 2013 was a major storm that proved a major challenge for Salem residents. There’s no need for the city to pile on now.