Snow Removal From Saugatuck's Downtown Streets: City Or Business Owners' Responsibility?
With Saugatuck Mayor Chris Peterson recently slipping and losing her balance right in front of city hall, the Saugatuck City Council made ice and snow removal a topic of discussion during Monday’s meeting.
Peterson made it unscathed, but the issue is a conundrum city officials face—and have faced in previous years—as there is no policy or procedure in the books that makes the city officially and formally responsible for snow removal on downtown sidewalks or sidewalks elsewhere in the city.
That responsibility, per city ordinance, falls on the property owners where a corresponding sidewalk is at.
The city does, however, take responsibility for road snow removal throughout city limits.
“We still haven’t found the right mix,” said Peterson, referring to the city’s and Saugatuck/Douglas Area Business Association’s ongoing discussions about what options there are in sidewalk snow removal in the city’s business district, particularly during excessive snowfalls or after snowstorms.
While some downtown merchants have called for the city to put down more salt or deicer on sidewalks, others outright reject that idea, worried the salt will find itself, via footsteps, inside their stores.
In either case, salt is not the answer, said Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier.
“That is the big misnomer—the city hears it all the time, ‘Why don’t you salt? Why don’t you salt?’ Well, that is not going to solve the problem. You still need to do physical labor (shovel the snow),” said Harrier.
The problem with simply salting is that snow melts and if temperatures drop, the liquid will freeze and cause a safety hazard. Snow needs to be thoroughly removed so as to not result in that scenario.
Salt also “kills all the vegetation,” noted Harrier.
Saugatuck’s ordinance making property owners responsible for snow removal is commonplace in many municipalities across the State of Michigan.
Nevertheless, the city does, via the Saugatuck Department of Public Works (DPW), supplement private property owner’s responsibility by plowing all sidewalks in the city limits after each snowfall, which city officials contend is a very expensive service.
“In extreme cases, just as we have had recently (heavy snowfall), public works plows and salts downtown just because it becomes an immediate safety issue,” said Peterson.
Certain sidewalks are directly next to the roadway with no buffer, resulting in snow accumulation from roadway snow removal and preventing even the DPW’s compact tractor from removing it, city officials pointed out last year.