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Storms left behind snowy, slippery sidewalks. Who’s responsible for clearing them?

City starts snow removal process

A utility worker from the City of Bellingham's Public Works Department scoops snow into a pile using a skip loader on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham on Feb. 14, 2019. The snow was first piled up, and then taken away by a dump truck.
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A utility worker from the City of Bellingham's Public Works Department scoops snow into a pile using a skip loader on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham on Feb. 14, 2019. The snow was first piled up, and then taken away by a dump truck.

The snowstorms that have pummeled Whatcom County have ended — for now — but have left behind snow-packed sidewalks that can be slippery and treacherous.

They’re a safety hazard and interfere with first responders’ ability to get to homes and businesses, the city of Ferndale told its residents and businesses in a post online.

So who’s responsible for clearing them?

In Seattle, which has gotten its fair share of snow since storms swept in starting on Super Bowl Sunday, says it’s the responsibility of the adjacent property owner. Down south, you could be fined $250 but it doesn’t seem like the city has ticketed anyone.

Who is responsible is a question explored by the Municipal Research and Services Center on its website.

The nonprofit focuses on issues faced by local governments, including whether a municipality is liable if someone gets hurt because it hasn’t removed ice and snow from sidewalks.

The answer, in case you’re wondering, is “no,” generally.

And can a local government require you to clear sidewalks of snow and ice? Yes.

We’ve gotten a breather from the snow but more may be on the way.

Here is a look at the sidewalk-clearing rules for different parts of Whatcom County for the next round:

Bellingham

The city plows streets but doesn’t clear snow or ice from sidewalks or other public walkways, Bellingham officials said on a post at cob.org.

That is the job of the abutting property owner or tenant.

And if they don’t and someone complains about the sidewalk being impassable, the city gives the property owner seven days to clear the sidewalk of what would be considered a nuisance, according to David Herschlip, who handles code enforcement for Bellingham Police.

The city can’t make a business or neighbor shovel, so much as tell them there’s been a complaint, according to Amy Cloud, spokeswoman for the Bellingham Public Works Department.

After seven days, the property owner could face a misdemeanor charge ... provided the snow and ice are still there.

Blaine

The property owner has 24 hours to remove snow and ice from the sidewalk next to their property, according to the city.

And if the property owner doesn’t?

“To my knowledge, there has never been a fine applied due to non-compliance,” Ravyn Whitewolf, Public Works director, said Thursday.

But the city could bill the property owner for the cost of removal, according to Blaine codes.

Ferndale

The city requires residents and businesses to clear snow and ice from the sidewalks in front of and on the side of their house and business within 24 hours.

Does Ferndale enforce it?

“Technically, every piece of the Ferndale Municipal Code is enforceable. However, we have not written a ticket for anyone in recent memory,” said Riley Sweeney, spokesman for the city of Ferndale. “It is definitely more of a, “Hey, let’s help each other out.’ ”

The city also let residents and businesses know what else they can do to help clean up during the break in the storm. Find that on its website at cityofferndale.org.

Lynden

The city requires the property owner next to the sidewalk to clear it.

“We have never ‘prosecuted’ anyone for not doing this. I assume if we did we would have to go through the usual written notices of violation, followed by a court appearance,” Mike Martin, city administrator for Lynden told The Bellingham Herald Thursday.

Can you be fined for not clearing the sidewalk as required?

“Not fined, but billed for the cost of having city employees remove the snow,” Martin said.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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