Early snow sparks plowing concerns

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(Photo by JUDD WILSON) Snow plowing was the hot topic at the center of city council discussions Nov. 6.

PRIEST RIVER — It’s already looking a lot like Christmas in western Bonner County, and Priest River city crew members are getting an early taste of citizen complaints about snow berms. At the city council meeting here Monday, Mayor Jim Martin and public works supervisor Tyler Smith discussed a recent spate of residents who have filed complaints in the middle of the road.

Martin said he’s hearing stories of city crew getting screamed at, threatened, and stopped in the middle of the road while doing their jobs.

“What the guys are encountering is that people don’t want snow piled anywhere” in their parking areas, in their property line, or near their mailboxes, he explained. Smith said it seemed like people wanted their driveways plowed right up to their shop.

However, said Martin, the simple fact is that it takes 10 hours for the city crew to plow the roads to get them open after a snow event. “That’s not going back and doing a lot of cleanup, just getting streets open so people can drive them.” The crews then go back the next day to do cleanup, he said. It’s not possible for the city crew to specialize and do lots of favors while plowing the roads. If that happens, a few people end up getting their driveways open and half the city is wondering why their roads aren’t plowed, said Smith.

In addition, city crews have encountered a handful of cases where cars and basketball hoops are parked too close to the right-of-way, which prevents the crew from being able to plow that area. Police chief Drew McLain said when plowing can’t happen on both sides of the road what ends up happening is that the driveable road surface narrows so much that traffic can only flow in one direction at a time. City ordinances state that vehicles must be parked no closer than six feet from the normal right-of-way. The idea is to allow enough room for two cars to pass.

“If they can just move their car for 10 seconds we can plow that and then you’ve got a place to park. But we can’t do it for one person and not another person. We need to be consistent with whatever policy we decide on,” said Martin.

Council member Peggy George said, “I’m just happy I can get out on the main road.” She added that she’s had to shovel out snow berms formed on her driveway by city snow plows. Smith said, “People are forgetting that they live in North Idaho where it snows and you have to own a snow shovel.”

Smith added that since the ground’s not frozen plowing takes longer in order to not tear up newly paved roads.

Martin said, “If we just encourage people to be four or six feet off the traveled surface, we can still plow. You might be bermed in but we can clear the roadways.”

Council member Doug Wagner asked the city to plow an alley that is the sole means of access for three households, including his. He said he’s been asking this for 10 years and is tired of tearing up snowblowers to make it driveable. Martin said the city would look at it to determine if perhaps it should be converted into a city street.

Martin said he would draft a letter to go out to all city residents to inform people of the city ordinance and how it would be enforced. Smith said he’d like all the city crew to have copies of it on hand.

“Before you jerk me out of the grader and beat me, here you go.”

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