Snow on the sidewalks

Colin Powell, Castine Selectperson

January 4, 2018

We had an interesting dicsussion at our select board meeting this week about clearing snow from the sidewalks. The question asked was, why would we pay so much to put in nice sidewalks only to leave them essentially un-passable in the winter? Unfortunately the many of the board and municipal officer’s answers seemed unsatisfying to the public attendees of the meeting. Here’s my take, and recognize that this is just my opinion. If people realy want sidewalks cleared in the winter, we can add it to the budget for next year, but hear me out first.

A few quick bullet points:

  1. Most area towns either have more sidewalk traffic, or require property owners to maintain clear sidewalks
  2. A policy requiring property owners to clear sidewalks would very easily become onerous, esp. for folks with lots of sidewalk on Main and Court streets
  3. We pay approx. $60,000 to clear roads each year; just clearing downtown sidewalks could easily add half again as much or more to our snow clearing budget
  4. Finally, once you set the precedent of clearing sidewalks, they must always be completely passable, leading the escalation of costs

These points have all come up before, or so it was explained to me by people who’ve been around municipal issues for a while. The biggest problem Castine has is not having sufficient pedestrian traffic to justify the expense of municipal snow clearing of sidewalks. Simply driving the plow of the sidewalks could lead to damage, and a specialty sidewalk clearing machine would need a place to put the snow.

All that said, I agree with the public at our last board meeting, we should have clearer sidewalks, if for no other reason than public safety. But how to achieve that, while not adding to our municipal budget? I wonder if there’s a public-private partnership where the town could agree to proivde a salt-sand bucket but set a policy of requiring downtown business to clear their sidewalks within 24-hours of a storm? I’m not sure how to give that policy teeth except for a financial penalty, but that seems like it would be harder on seasonal businesses than year round. Could the town agree to pay a small amount into a shovelling assistance fund managed by the Merchant’s Association?

I think this approach of a policy requiring business to clear sidewalks but providing a small amount of funds, say $5,000 to a fund each year to the Merchant’s would be the most sustainable method. It absolves the town of having to maintain perfectly clear sidewalks all year, while allowing those businesses for whom because of age or fiscal issues would see clearing sidewalks as a hardship to have some relief. What do you think? I’d love to hear your opnions. Click the facebook link to the left and drop me a comment, or email me at selectperson.colin@gmail.com