A property manager of a downtown apartment building is steaming after she received a letter from the city, which was sent en masse to downtown and Cow Bay businesses and property owners, reminding them of their duty to clear snow and ice from sidewalks, with a follow-up non-compliance letter.
Lisa Collins, property manager for Harbour Side Apartments said last week that a letter sent to her boss from the city referencing non-compliance for her sloped sidewalks along Second Street and First Avenue was done prematurely and without cause.
After contacting the city asking for an apology and retraction when her property was singled out as non-compliant, she received a letter from bylaw stating that work was done by the city to clear snow from the property’s sidewalks after heavy snowfall early this year.
Collins said she has bills relating to snow removal and photos after the street plow pushed some of the snow back onto her sidewalks after shovelling by the noon deadline. The snow was also pushed onto the drain, which Collins said she made sure was clear for running water that would otherwise turn into ice overnight.
“They sent this letter, registered mail to my boss without even contacting me. The first one came from the bylaw officer and then her boss sent me what was supposed to be an apology and public works has called me, but nobody’s come and done anything about it yet,” said Collins last Thursday.
“I think they quoted that they were going to give fines, but that’s not happening to other properties.”
City communications manager Veronika Stewart emphasized that while city workers do monitor for potentially hazardous non-cleared sidewalks, most of their efforts are focused on actually clearing snow from city property – something that’s been taking up much of their time this year due to higher-than-average levels of snowfall in early 2017.
“Prince Rupert has received high amounts of snowfall this year compared to the past four years. Snow removal on sidewalks abutting a business is required to be removed by the business in accordance with the City’s Snow and Ice Removal policy, which is a standard requirement for most municipalities. Given many businesses were unable to keep up with snow clearing during the initial heavy snowfall this year, a template letter was sent to all downtown and Cow Bay businesses as a reminder of the city’s policy,” Stewart stated in an email last week.
“In response to public snow removal complaints in these business areas, inspections were conducted during the month of December. During that period, the city cleared sidewalks of those properties not in compliance with the bylaw, and sent warning letters to those properties. No fines were levied. These steps were taken in the interests of promoting overall public safety, and not intended to disrespect businesses who abide by the bylaw. A notice was also posted in an ad in the local newspaper in December, and several updates have been shared via social media,” she said.
In Collins’ situation, Stewart mentioned that the city will re-evaluate inspections and subsequent claims to ensure that compliant owners aren’t sent the wrong correspondence.
“We have taken Ms. Collins’ complaint regarding the notice sent to her into consideration and are looking into ensuring that next year, photographs are taken of properties who are found to be in contravention of the bylaw, so that claims can be appropriately substantiated,” she said.
Stewart added that city workers try and clear drains and catch basins from main roads, but encourage residents to contact public works if plowing creates more problems.
The dramatic increase in snowfall has led to higher costs incurred by the city for the first two months of 2017, which always vary year to year.
In January and February, snow removal costs added up to $140,000 after the same two months in 2016 totalled $35,000.
Stewart said that since the snowfall of Feb. 25, the entire public works staff have been dedicating their energies to snow removal duties and put all other projects on hold.
“Although costs seem significant, these costs are comparable to the same time periods in 2012, 2009 and 2008 … The city clears snow from public roads and sidewalks according to a priority sequence – starting with emergency and transit routes and then moving onto hills, major through-roads, and then into other areas,” Stewart said, adding the city is grateful to residents and property owners helping neighbours who are less physically able to clear the snow themselves.