Sidewalk worries piling up


With the remains of more than 2 feet of snow still on the ground and inches more expected to fall, many sidewalks in Baltimore's suburbs remained impassable yesterday, a fact that has angered parents and others concerned about the safety of children forced to walk on streets to school.

In Howard County, property owners are required by law to remove snow from their sidewalks within 48 hours of the end of a storm. But that law was suspended by police from Feb. 20 until yesterday because of the extraordinary volume of snow left by last week's storm, said Officer Denise Walk, a police spokeswoman.

Howard's Emergency Operations Center has received "dozens" of complaints about nonenforcement, Walk said. But police have not been responding to those complaints while the code was suspended, she added.

That has angered people such as David Wurzel of Columbia.

Wurzel chose to drive his 15-year-old daughter Jaimee the half-mile to Long Reach High School every day this week because many sidewalks along her route had not been shoveled. As he drove up Tamar Drive, Wurzel said, he counted at least 100 students walking in the main roadway because piled snow covered the sidewalk and shoulders. They also clambered over piles that blocked intersections.

"Kids were jumping on the mound and jumping into the street," he said. "It's going to wind up in a lawsuit if someone gets hurt."

Howard PTA Council President Deborah Wessner said residents should make an effort to clear snow. "Children won't have clear paths if everyone doesn't do their part," she said.

Howard police say they know how dangerous it is to walk in the street, but they also say the unique circumstances of the record snowfall make it virtually impossible to enforce the snow-removal law.

"We didn't want people clearing the sidewalks and throwing the snow back into the street," Walk said.

"When faced with an emergency situation like this we, of course, advise our citizens to ... be as safe as possible, to choose an alternative that is as safe as possible while the emergency is in effect," said Sherry Llewellyn, a police spokeswoman.

Other counties have been trapped by the same dilemma.

No one to call

In Baltimore County, a code requires business owners, homeowners and landowners to clear their sidewalks 24 hours after the snow stops, or pay a $25 fine for each day of violation.

But no enforcement agency is specified in the code and, as a consequence, apparently no one is enforcing the rule.

"The county police can't be diverting resources to enforce this code because it would become a real problem," said Bill Toohey, spokesman for Baltimore County police.

Toohey suggested that people pitch in to help their neighbors and clear the walks. He said it would be a help for students who have to walk to school and for the elderly.

The Anne Arundel County snow-removal code requires that homeowners and tenants move snow and ice from sidewalks within six hours of a snowfall. If it snows between 3 p.m. and 6 a.m., the occupant is required to shovel the snow off the sidewalk before 11 a.m.

Lack of resources

"We don't have the resources to enforce that," said Pam Jordan, the county's land-use spokeswoman. "We needed to apply all our resources to fighting the storm.

"In this catastrophic weather, we're depending on residents to use their judgment and common sense" to decide when to clear snow, Jordan said. "Where we can, we're cautioning drivers that children are using the bus stops."

In Annapolis, property owners are required by city code to clear public sidewalks in front of their homes or buildings within three hours after snow or sleet has stopped, except when the snow stops between 3 p.m. and 6 a.m., in which case they have until 11 a.m. to clear the sidewalks.

If property owners do not comply, they get a warning letter from the Department of Public Works and can be fined $25 per storm. But since last week's record snowstorm, no one has been fined.

"We didn't fine last week because of the intensity of the snow, just out of kindness to the general public," said Judy Ridgway, public information officer for the city's Department of Public Works.

The city also decided not to fine because snowplows inadvertently were piling more snow on the sidewalks, Ridgway said.

Issuing warnings

This week, however, the department began contacting property owners who have not shoveled, and have warned that fines could be assessed, Ridgway said. Usually, the city will assess a fine only when a property owner remains uncooperative, she said.

Ridgway said, in anticipation of snow this week, "People right now should have gone out and purchased shovels and salt, and should know they are supposed to be handling their sidewalk. Each person should be responsible and caring and use common sense."

Several counties have programs to help senior citizens and the disabled dig out.

Regina Jenkins, a volunteer coordinator in the Howard County Office on Aging, has been sending volunteers to help seniors by removing snow from their sidewalks.

Van Beall, a 48-year-old Ellicott City resident, helped at least six people during last week's storm. He said he volunteered "because I'm able to when others aren't."

Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson, Amanda J. Crawford, Linda Linley and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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