Digging out after the storm

Meteorologists classify January 2014 as one of the coldest in recent history, with snow accumulations well above average and wind-chills often dipping below zero.

The high on Thursday, Jan. 30, was 27 degrees. Several cities, like Mishawaka, South Bend and Elkhart responded to the warm temperatures by putting more road salt down and ending the amnesty period for the cities’ “sidewalk shovel” ordinances.

Mishawaka officials reported that the city started issuing citations for un-shoveled sidewalks on Thursday. Mishawaka’s citations range from $25 to $250, with no definite guidelines for determining fees.

Mayor of Elkhart, Dick Moore, was once head of the city’s street department and said this winter has been particularly harsh. Elkhart has a right of way ordinance which requires residents to remove any debris or blockage from public sidewalks. During the winter months Mayor Moore said it’s commonly referred to as a “sidewalk shovel” ordinance.

Homeowners have a 24 hour period to shovel sidewalks after snow stops falling. There must be at least two inches accumulated on the walk in order for a citation to be issued. Seemingly constant snowfall has created very few windows long enough for residents to go out in shovel.

As a result, officials put a brief amnesty period in effect due to the freezing temperatures, saying it was unsafe for people to be outside for an extended duration.

Transportation cuts in 2010 motivated Elkhart to create some type of law to assure the sidewalks would be clear for students walking to school. Moore said some students have to walk up to two miles to get to school; if sidewalks are snow-covered they often risk the dangers of walking in the street.

“Whatever we can do to make our children warmer and safer” said Moore.

According to Moore, more than 500 tickets have been issued since the inception of the ordinance. Code Enforcement crews from the city of Elkhart are responsible for issuing the $25 citations for violators, however, Moore said they will be very “tolerant” when handing them out.

Over in South Bend, interim chief code enforcement inspector, Jim Wood, said city employees will begin issuing citations on Friday when the city lifts its shoveling amnesty period. Residents who have not yet shoveled will be given 24 hours to remove the snow, if they have failed to do so, Wood said they will receive a $15-$25 ticket.

If a homeowner is unable, physically or mentally, to shovel there are options for assistance. Wood said residents can contact code enforcement and work with officials to find alternative means to shovel.

In Elkhart, city employees are assigned to shovel snow for some 200 residents who have requested the service because they are unable to perform the task themselves. So far, Moore explained the majority of those residents had their walks cleared by Thursday.

Regardless of what city or county a person lives in, Wood said the “neighborly” thing to do is to clear away the snow.

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