EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 13, 2013

Parents fear for students walking on edges of streets

City works to clean sidewalks, widen roads

By Mike LaBella

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HAVERHILL — Sara Resillas said snow-covered sidewalks along Main Street forced her son, her three nephews and other students to walk in the street to get to their bus stop yesterday.

She and other parents are concerned about children walking at the edge of roads, many of which are narrow due to large snowbanks.

Because of the snow left by the Blizzard of 2013, city workers have been unable to clear all sidewalks leading to schools and bus stops.

The city has an ordinance that requires homeowners to keep the sidewalks in front of their residences clear of snow or risk being fined. Resillas said she wants the city to at least remind people of the ordinance.

"I don't believe residents know it's their responsibility to clear sidewalks," she said. "You get fined for having your car parked on the wrong side of the street in the winter, so maybe the city can just remind people about clearing their sidewalks or else be fined."

Resillas, who lives on 17th Avenue, said some people owning business along the stretch of Main Street where her son walks did remove snow, but some residents did not.

Mayor James Fiorentini said a storm of this size makes it very difficult for the city to fine people. He said he prefers to ask for voluntary compliance.

"What we really need is everyone's help," Fiorentini said. "What we need is for everyone to pitch in and have every able bodied person who can do this without jeopardizing their health to clear the sidewalk in front of your house, and if you can, help your neighbor."

Superintendent James Scully said it's unrealistic to think the city can remove snow from every sidewalk after a storm of this size. He issued an instant alert message on Monday evening asking parents to talk to their children about using caution when walking to and from school on streets where the sidewalks are not passable. Schools reopened yesterday.

"Everybody is doing the best they can," Scully said. "Many communities are still closed and we're open.

"Weather presents a challenge in the northeast and we have to be aware of those challenges," he said. "I was criticized for closing school on Monday. People said their children have been home three days and they should go back. We made the right call, but some people weren't happy with it."

Scully said problems with snow-covered sidewalks affects people of all ages, not just students walking to school.

Fiorentini said that in the past when the snow was less deep, police and inspectors responded to complaints about impassible sidewalks by visiting residents and warning them to comply with the ordinance. The mayor said the warnings were usually all that was needed to get people to comply.

"We're doing what we can with two sidewalk plows and we're considering buying a third one, but there's no possible way we can do all of the sidewalks in the city," Fiorentini said. "It's a problem in other communities too, including Boston, where they didn't have school as the sidewalks were so bad, Every city in the area struggles with this."

The city is engaged in a massive cleanup, with workers using various pieces of heavy equipment to remove and haul away snow that was piled high along streets and near intersections as the result of plowing.

From front-end loaders lifting mounds of snow to dump trucks hauling it off to the Highway Department yard on Primrose Street, officials say efforts to make the city safer for pedestrians and drivers will continue throughout the week and into the weekend.

School officials said the roughly two feet of snow the storm dumped on Haverhill is making it difficult to clear every sidewalk and that children need to be extra cautious when walking to and from school. Officials said area communities are dealing with the same problems.

The cleanup effort began on Monday when the Highway Department removed mounds of snow from Bailey and Ginty boulevards just north of downtown, as well as Main Street from Merrimack Street to Monument Square. Private contractors removed snow from municipal parking lots in the downtown.

Highway Department foreman Tom Shanahan said the work was made easier because of the snow emergency the mayor put into effect until 4 p.m. on Friday.

"The snow emergency does help, especially in the Washington Street area,'' Shanahan said. "It's much easier to work with no cars around.''

Snow removal continued yesterday along Washington Street in the Mount Washington neighborhood and the lower part of Lawrence Street where it meets Kenoza Avenue.

"We had two crews with a loader and four trucks each hauling snow out to make it easier to drive," Shanahan said. "Backhoes were out trying to widen intersections."

Work was to continue last night starting at 6, with workers using two front-end loaders, one front-end loader with a snow blower attachment, one sidewalk plow, one grader, and 15 dump trucks hauling the snow to the highway yard. Today's efforts will focus on Washington Street, while snow removal takes place downtown tonight.

On Thursday, the city will close the Wingate Street parking lot and the lot opposite Maria's Restaurant on Essex Street from 8 a.m. to noon so mounds of snow can be removed.

"It's going to be one street at a time and we'll continue through the weekend, working on side streets picking up snow," Shanahan said.