PITTSFIELD — After a season of ice and slush, the city is proposing a major change to the way it handles winter weather.
A January ice storm had residents slipping and sliding on local sidewalks — something many residents say has become the norm for the winter season. In this particular storm’s aftermath, At Large City Councilor Earl Persip III sent a petition to the city’s Health Department asking staff to take a second look at how ice and snow are cleared from city walkways.
Now Persip and residents may have an answer to their ice woes. Health Director Andy Cambi plans to present a recommendation for an update to the staffing and fine structure for snow clearance during the City Council meeting Tuesday night.
Cambi writes in his response to the petition that the current snow clearance process has two problems.
The first problem is that “there is only one designated staff member to address all the city sidewalks for snow and ice removal.”
The second problem is that business owners and residents are allowed a warning before any kind of fee for delayed snow and ice removal.
Under the current fee schedule, the first failure to clear ice and snow within 24 hours is followed by a warning. If snow isn’t cleared within the next 24 hours the property owner is issued a $25 fine. The third and fourth violations trigger a $50 and $100 fine, respectively.
Cambi is proposing that city inspectors drop the warning and begin issuing fines right away, in recognition that “removal of snow and ice on sidewalks is an important safety and accessibility consideration for pedestrians especially those who have ambulatory disabilities, young children and seniors.”
Snow and ice removal is federally required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Speaking after the January ice storm, Julie Berger, a founder of Berkshire Mutual Aid and a disability rights advocate, said that even with the backing of the act, winter maintenance is an afterthought for many communities in the Berkshires.
“Sometimes, people in the winter in the Berkshires are forced to choose between staying home and going without access to resources for their safety, or going out in the community and take the risk of a slip-and-fall injury,” Berger said. “And it’s a terrible position to be forced into.”
Cambi is also recommending that when the snow starts to fall his entire inspection staff mobilizes around making sure sidewalks are being cleared.
Instead of tasking the city’s sole nuisance control officer with snow monitoring, the draft policy Cambi will be presenting would have all five full-time inspectors focused on snow and ice clearance any time the city sees more than a two inch accumulation of snow or ice.
Heads-upThe city’s Park and Recreation Department is looking for input on several early plans for a revival of Pontoosuc Lake Park. A concept review meeting will be held in City Council Chambers Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Concepts for Pontoosuc Lake Park could bring a swimming beach and gathering space to the park's northern shore
Residents will get a chance to see several plans which propose new boardwalks, swimming beaches and play areas around the lake ahead of a final proposal for the park.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the Pontoosuc Lake Park meeting will take place on March 10 at 7 p.m.