Snowy sidewalks a hazard for students

Unshoveled paths remain in suburbs, but removal rules not pressed

February 27, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

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," said Walk.

"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.

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.

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.

"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.

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

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