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Rilling: Volunteers, new employee, may help clean up Norwalk’s snow-bound sidewalks

A Norwalk pedestrian risks injury to walk down Fort Point Street Wednesday night.

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling is looking into ways to reduce the number of Norwalk sidewalks that are impassable due to snow.

Rilling said Tuesday he has talked to Norwalk Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator Dave Shockley about ways to help people who are not physically able to shovel their sidewalks, possibly by encouraging Boy Scout troops to do the work. Rilling said he had talked to Finance Director Thomas Hamilton and Shockley about hiring a second person to enforce ordinances regarding snowy sidewalks and garbage dumping.

Rilling made the comments at the Public Works Committee meeting, which began with activist Mike Mushak stressing the seriousness of the situation.

Mushak said he had done a study of his own Golden Hill neighborhood – of 300 properties, 16 percent had uncleared sidewalks 36 hours after the Jan. 21 snowstorm, he said.

“They were all clustered, which just shows you that when one person doesn’t do it, they all don’t,” he said.

This was all documented with photographs in a seven-page presentation that Mushak handed to the council members.

Only one of the unshoveled sidewalks was at the home of a low income person, he said.

“The rest were out-of-town landlords,” he said. “… When we found out where they lived it was mostly in Wilton and New Canaan, most of them live in multi-million dollar homes, so money is not an issue.”

In one case, a private plow had pushed snow onto a sidewalk and damaged a telephone pole, he said. The snow on the sidewalk was 4 feet deep, he said.

Mushak said he had given the study to Norwalk’s customer service department, and was promised that someone would put warnings on doorknobs.

Ordinance Enforcement Officer Ed Schwartz works 20 hours a week, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said.

“My guidance to him is to focus on the schools,” Alvord said. “So every time there’s a snow storm he goes out and starts checking all 19 schools and putting door hangers on the doors where the sidewalks are not cleared. That takes up all of his time.”

Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) asked if imposing fines on offenders would pay for another staff person.

“Ed fined some people and it was like World War III,” Alvord said.

“Now we’re fighting with people that he has levied a fine on who are refusing to pay the fines, so you’ve got to deal with those issues as well. Could we use additional staff to deal with these kinds of things? Absolutely. One guy, 20 hours a week, can’t do it all. He can’t do sidewalks in the winter time, he can’t do garbage in the summer time because there’s not enough people. There are 33,000 properties in the city of Norwalk.”

Norwalk BoE 020414 034
Mayor Harry Rilling shares information with Common Council members Tuesday.

At which point the mayor spoke up.

Shockley might expand the work that he’s doing, Rilling said. Schwartz doesn’t want to work more hours, he said, but “if we bring another part-timer on, we’ll have (the equivalent of) one full-timer, doing 20 hours each. That other person could work 4 in the afternoon to 8 o’clock at night, when they are most likely to catch the homeowners at home. Whereas Ed works in the day.”

He had spoken to South Norwalk activist Ernie Dumas about doing the work, he said.

On Wednesday, Rilling said in an email he would like to do that soon, but there are some details to be worked out.

He also said at Tuesday’s meeting that another idea is to buy some snow blowers and use a city pickup truck and get volunteers to clear sidewalks for people who cannot do it themselves. Elderly people could sign up to get their sidewalks cleared when there is two inches or more of snow, he said.

Petrini suggested getting religious organizations to volunteer to clean up sidewalks as well.

He expressed a concern about commercial sidewalks and pedestrians walking in the street on main arteries. He again pushed the fine issue, saying, “The only way they’re ever going to do this probably is to put teeth behind this.”

Mushak sidewalk study 1-23-14_0001

Comments

7 responses to “Rilling: Volunteers, new employee, may help clean up Norwalk’s snow-bound sidewalks”

  1. Joanne Romano

    It is not unreasonable to impose fines for snow removal as I posted on my Facebook during this last round of storms. There are laws in place and should be adhered to. We have elderly, school children, commuters etc. who must walk to their destinations and we as citizens have an obligation to do our part. I pretty much copied most if not all of the statutes and if I recall correctly, fire hydrants are included in snow removal by homeowners and/or tenants depending on who is responsible for the maintenance of each property:
    Snow and ice removal from sidewalks.

    A. The provisions of Section 7-163a of the Connecticut General Statutes are hereby adopted and are set forth in Subsections B, C, D and E hereof.
    B. Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 13a-149 of the Connecticut General Statutes or any other general or special act, the City shall not be liable to any person for injury to person or property due to the presence of ice or snow on a public sidewalk unless the City is the owner or person in possession and control of land abutting such sidewalk, other than land used as a highway or street, provided that the City shall be liable for its affirmative acts with respect to any such sidewalk under its possession and control.
    C. The owner or person in possession and control of land abutting a public sidewalk shall have the same duty of care with respect to the presence of ice or snow on such sidewalk toward the portion of the sidewalk abutting his property as the City had prior to the effective date of this chapter and shall be liable to persons injured in person or property where a breach of said duty is the proximate cause of said injury.
    D. No action to recover damages for injury to person or property caused by the presence of ice or snow on a public sidewalk against a person who owns or is in possession and control of land abutting a public sidewalk shall be brought but within two years from the date when the injury is first sustained.
    E. Whenever the public sidewalk shall be wholly or partially covered by snow or ice, it shall be the duty of the owner or person in possession and control of land abutting a public sidewalk to cause such sidewalk to be made safe and convenient by removing the snow therefrom within the first six hours of daylight immediately following the accumulation of such snow thereon or, in the case of ice, by covering the same with sand or other suitable material within the first six hours of daylight following the accumulation of such ice, and then renewing such treatment as often as may be necessary to keep such sidewalk safe and convenient. In case of the failure or neglect of the owner or person in possession and control of land abutting the public sidewalk to comply with this subsection, the Director may cause the same to be done, and the expense thereof shall be collectible from the person so failing or neglecting, in an action of debt brought in the name of the City under this section. Any person who fails or neglects to comply with this subsection shall also be liable for a penalty or fine in an amount established in accordance with § 90-4, Approval of rates and fees.
    [Amended 6-23-2009]

    This also includes fire hydrants on your property or sidewalk abutting your property..

  2. Another Nancy

    Why is the Ordinance Enforcement Officer working days when ” 4 in the afternoon to 8 o’clock at night” is “when they are most likely to catch the homeowners at home”?

  3. Mike Mushak

    Thanks Nancy and Joanne. This is one if those things that determines how well managed a city is. After many years of begging for enforcement, it still upsets me when I hear Hal Alvord make excuses as to why no one us ever fined. So what is collection is difficult. Get the fines levied and you will see results. At this point we are so sick of the excuses from DPW we just want warnings given, and even those are impossible as we hear excuses. I asked for warning flyers yesterday from DPW but haven’t heard back. There should be no issue with private citizens distributing warnings on doorknobs, since we know where the chronic violators are and the city seems unwilling to help us.
    .
    It is heartbreaking to watch children and elderly risk their lives having to choose an icy minefield of a sidewalk or dodging speeding traffic, as we have all winter. The potential for tragedy is very high. Do we have to wait for a death or serious injuries to solve this problem?
    .
    It is tragic that we actually have condo complexes, yes, 10 condo complexe, as well as 35 multi families with mostly wealthy landlords in our neighborhood who get their driveways and internal walkways cleared within hours, but the public walks are ignored with impunity. This is the easiest problem to solve, yet DPW can’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation. I bet in Alvord’s home town of Danbury, fines are levied and enforcement happens. I would be curious to find that out. I have lived in a lot of cities in my life and have never seen a city with this many uncleared sidewalks after an average snow storm. It is unacceptable especially considering the taxes we pay.
    .
    Someone told me Stamford issued hundreds of fines so far this winter. Are we that inept that we can’t get organized and get our sidewalks cleared like every other city? Sure we need more staff time, but how hard would it be to drive around and give out warnings two days after a snowstorm? Hal says there are 33,000 properties in the city, but I would bet at least 2/3 of those do not have sidewalks. Entire neighborhoods don’t have a lot of sidewalks to speak of, like Cranbury and West Norwalk . So why not concentrate on the neighborhoods and downtowns that do have sidewalks, and drive around in a coordinated pattern and give out warnings to start, and fines for chronic violators? I offered to help for free, and hand out warnings into neighborhood, but Hal Alvord had not returned my email.

  4. Missy Conrad

    On Tuesday, after the first storm, turning from West Rocks Road onto St. Mary’s Lane, I encountered a baby stroller being pushed in the street by a young women because there was not a good way for her to cross. Busy intersections could also be cared for by our city.

  5. RU4REAL

    Will the snow plow drivers pick up the blade when they see my shoveled sidewalk?
    I end up shoveling numerous times.

  6. Sara Sikes

    Does this paragraph below make any sense-why can’t he communicate with those city employees responsible for clearing school lots by phone or some more effective way other than leaving “door hangers.”

    “Ordinance Enforcement Officer Ed Schwartz works 20 hours a week, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said.

    “My guidance to him is to focus on the schools,” Alvord said. “So every time there’s a snow storm he goes out and starts checking all 19 schools and putting door hangers on the doors where the sidewalks are not cleared. That takes up all of his time.”

  7. Audrey Cozzartin

    I’m very glad to see the sidewalks issue being front and center. The “footpaths” (asphalt trails) along Fillow Street and Hunters Lane are poorly maintained. Middle school kids walk in the street when it snows, and I have wondered for the past 11 years I’ve lived in the area if we’re waiting for one of them to get hit by a car before we really do anything concerted about it. The rest of the year the “footpaths” are littered and covered by overgrowth, looking like sidewalks in Detroit–I know, I’m from Detroit. I have reached out to DPW, the police department, both principals as Ponus Ridge and Kendall School, our local common council members, local senator, the mayor, zoning, redevelopment, CNNA, and now reaching out to PTOs of the schools to see if anyone else cares about the quality of life in Norwalk. Not only school children (which should be our priority), but adults who walk or run for exercise, have a hard time traversing sidewalks and “footpaths” around my area of the city as well as other areas mentioned. The question we can ask, without finger-pointing, is: Do we want a city that is a successful city of the future where humans can walk if so desired, versus a city where the automobile rules? DPW does an excellent job of clearing the streets and I believe cannot be faulted for executing this task well. However, if we view the car as priority over pedestrians, we lose a sense of scale and humanity that we might discuss as we go forward.

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