Snowy sidewalks hinder pedestrians, challenge businesses

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As wintry weather batters the Flathead Valley, snow and ice accumulates on nearly everything, which can leave city residents struggling through thigh-high snow or resorting to the dangerous tactic of walking on the street to keep their feet dry.

The extreme conditions have many residents wondering who is supposed to clear the sidewalks that are vital pathways for pedestrians and wheelchair users.

“The way our city code speaks is that it is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner of the nearest sidewalk or bike path,” said Susie Turner, director of the Public Works Department in Kalispell.

Turner said keeping sidewalks and trails clear of snow can be a challenge, because snowfall is unpredictable and time-consuming to remove. She said her department works to make sure business owners clear sidewalks between their business and the roadway, whether they reside along Main Street or U.S. 93 in North Kalispell.

She doesn’t, however, have the resources to devote someone to the task full time. She said enforcement is often complaint-driven, and when they receive notice from a citizen that a sidewalk needs to be cleared, the department first contacts the business owner.

She said most of the time, the owner makes sure it is addressed quickly, but in some cases they have to send a follow-up letter.

Turner’s tenure as director of the department began in 2011. She said in that time, the city hasn’t issued any citations because they have been able to address the issue with business owners before it reached that point.

Public Works has received a number of complaints about North Kalispell this winter season, Turner said, and has followed up with letters to business owners throughout that section of town.

Because of the lack of resources to hire someone to police snow removal full time, they are trying to be proactive about making sure business owners know the ordinances.

Turner said that if anyone encounters a snow-covered sidewalk that they think should be clear, the best thing to do is call the Public Works Department at 758-7720.

She also advised that if city residents are unhappy with the level of service currently provided, they should consider reaching out to their city council member and requesting additional funds to the effort.

“I can provide up to a certain level of service and if they want that level of service increased, time and money is what it takes,” Turner said. “They are more than welcome to contact their council members with their concerns and thoughts.”

Some municipal trails are maintained through the winter by Parks and Recreation. This includes a proposed stretch of trail likely to go off U.S. 93 near the Kidsports ball fields — at least until it reaches the Spring Prairie commercial development. At that point it becomes the responsibility of the developer, said Parks and Recreation Director Chad Fincher.

Parks and Recreation clears trails near roadways that are used by pedestrian commuters, particularly if the trail is separated from the road by a curb, which makes it difficult for other municipal snow removal teams with bigger equipment to reach it.

Fincher said they also choose to leave some trail systems, like those near the Kidsports complex, covered in order to serve as a recreational opportunity for cross-country skiers and other sports.

If people notice trails covered in snow that they think should be plowed, he advised they also give a call to the Public Works Department.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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