Kalispell residents waiting for their driveways to be plowed after the biggest snowstorm of the year were out of luck this week.
The city public works department is cracking down on its policy for snow removal after previous acts of kindness piled up to the point of overwhelming staff. City snowplows are not responsible for clearing private driveways or snow from private property, according to city ordinance.
However, “we weren’t very good about enforcing it,” Public Works Director Bill Shaw acknowledged.
At recent city council meetings, Shaw has been warning councilors to be prepared for phone calls from residents wondering why city snowplows are not clearing their driveways.
“There seems to be some assumption that we’re going to be able to plow driveways, which is something we just can’t do,” Shaw said. “The city has over 5,000 driveways. There would be no way in the world to get to each driveway in a timely manner.”
In past winters, city employees have on occasion helped residents, particularly the elderly or disabled, Shaw said.
“But last winter it just got over the top,” he said. “It really took a toll on our staff.”
Shaw has a crew of 10 responsible for snow removal in the early morning hours and throughout the day. The city’s longtime policy says crews should begin plowing public roadways when at least 3 inches of snow has accumulated. However, sometimes crews will begin plowing earlier, Shaw said, if a large storm is on its way to try to keep streets clear for the long term. The crew has priority routes, starting with main thoroughfare roads and then working out toward residential neighborhoods.
Crews often catch flack for their tactics, like creating berms, but the intention is always to clear streets efficiently and in a timely manner, Shaw said.
The city’s policy reads: “Plow operators will attempt to clear snow from curb to curb. Where access to the curb line is blocked by parked cars the vehicle owner should expect snow to accumulate around the parked car … City crews will try to avoid plowing snow against a parked vehicle. However, if it does happen they will not be able to assist in removing the piled snow.”
“We get calls many times during the winter complaining about the way snow is being managed,” Shaw said, adding he supports the efforts of his crew and believes they do the best they can to keep streets clear and safe.
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