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Walk at your own risk: Riverhead sidewalks obstructed by snow & ice, despite snow-removal law

Sidewalk on Pulaski Street just east of the school is completely obstructed by snow. (RiverheadLOCAL photo by Emil Breitenbach Jr.)

There’s been snow on the ground for weeks — with more on the way — and sidewalks all over Riverhead are covered in snow and ice, making pedestrian travel difficult at best. Plowed snow has piled up on the shoulders of local roadways and even on sidewalks — including along the five-lane County Road 58; pedestrians have been forced to share traffic lanes with moving vehicles.

“It’s a matter of public safety,” Councilman James Wooten said Friday. “The town has to start enforcing the law.”

Riverhead Town Code requires the owner or occupant of property to “keep the sidewalk in front of the lot or house free from obstruction by snow or ice and icy conditions…”  Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $250.

“The law’s the law,” Wooten said.

The town used to issue summonses to commercial property owners who didn’t clear their sidewalks, Wooten said. It was done under the Cardinale administration, when code enforcement officers ticketed commercial property owners for failure to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice, including the owners of the large Route 58 shopping centers, said Wooten, who served his first two years as a councilman during the prior administration. But no more.

The town did issue tickets on Route 58 last year, Supervisor Sean Walter said in a phone interview Thursday. “We are sending letters out to property owners,” he said. 

It might be a moot point due to heavy ice conditions, he conceded. “If you haven’t gotten your snow off your sidewalk, you’re probably not getting it off now,” he said.

A man walks in the road along Route 58 last month. (RiverheadLOCAL file photo by Peter Blasl)The sidewalks along County Road 58 have been impassable — and mostly altogether inaccessible — due to plowed snow that’s been piled high on the sidewalks for most of this winter. When the road was widened from three to five lanes a few years back, shoulders were eliminated along most of the thoroughfare. County plows coming through inevitably push snow onto the sidewalks — and there the snow has remained, frozen in place.

“You couldn’t possibly ask a business owner to get that off the sidewalk,” Walter said.

Wooten disagreed. “There are plenty of people in this town with the equipment to handle it. The commercial property owners, especially on Route 58, have to be made to get it done.”

The problem is lack of enforcement, Wooten said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the town should hire another code enforcement officer. Riverhead currently has just two, plus one part-timer. The third full-time code enforcement positon was eliminated in 2010’s budget cuts. “It would be money well-spent,” she said.

“It’s one thing to create the laws and another to enforce them,” she said. “Code enforcement is a big issue throughout our town, with overcrowded housing, illegal accessory apartments and signs. Code enforcement has been complaint-driven. We need to be proactive,” Giglio said.

Complaints about snow blocking bus shelters along Route 58 led to county workers shoveling them out yesterday afternoon. Nevertheless, county officials say it’s not the county’s responsibility.

Suffolk County DPW workers clearing snow and ice from bus shelter on Route 58 yesterday. (RiverheadLOCAL photo by Peter Blasl)County Legislator Al Krupski said yesterday he’d spoken to Suffolk’s public works commissioner several times during the past month about snow removal from the shelters. Suffolk Transit bus passengers have not been able to access either sidewalks or shelters on Route 58, which is served by three Suffolk Transit bus lines. Passengers have had to enter and exit buses within the lanes of travel. Most bus stops have no pull-offs anyway, and since the road, for the most part, lacks shoulders, buses always stop in the lane of travel to discharge or pick up passengers. But with sidewalks blocked by walls of plowed snow, passengers have had nowhere to wait for the bus and nowhere to walk after disembarking — except within the lane of travel.

For the past month, county and town officials have been going back and forth over which government is responsible for the shelters.

Suffolk County and the Town of Riverhead entered into an agreement in 2003 under which the town assumed responsibility for for bus shelter maintenance, specifically including snow removal. The agreement expired Dec. 31, 2012. Town officials say the shelters are now the county’s responsibility.

But DPW Commissioner Richard Anderson told Krupski yesterday morning that the removal of snow from the shelters — like the sidewalks — is the responsibility of individual property owners — not the county, the legislator said.

“When you build and develop a large shopping center, the maintenance is part of what you’re taking on,” Krupski said in an interview Friday afternoon. “It’s expensive but it’s a matter of public safety.”

“It’s obviously very dangerous,” the supervisor agreed. “Please don’t walk in the road. If you don’t have a car, see if you can get someone to give you a ride.”

“The supervisor doesn’t like to give summonses out,” Councilman John Dunleavy said after Thursday’s work session.

Pedestrian on East Main Street walks in the street Thursday, past sidewalk obstructed by snow. (RiverheadLOCAL photo by Peter Blasl)During that meeting, Dunleavy proposed having the Business Improvement District pay for snow removal on Main Street sidewalks. He had been to Bridgehampton the day before, he said, and was impressed by how the sidewalks were completely clear of snow.

Walter said he favors the idea of having the town’s buildings and grounds crew handle snow removal on Main Street sidewalks between Ostrander and Griffing avenues.

Giglio said she would not support the BID paying to clear sidewalks on Main Street unless it clears all streets within the business improvement district. It’s not fair, she said. Property owners in the BID who are not on Main Street shouldn’t have their taxes support Pedestrians trying to walk along snow-obstructed sidewalk on East Main St. near Ostrander Avenue. (RiverheadLOCAL photo by Emil Breitenbach Jr.)snow removal on Main Street and then have to pay private contractors for snow removal outside their own businesses, she said.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said he doesn’t support the town paying for snow removal in front of commercial properties, but he thinks the town should clear snow from sidewalks in residential neighborhoods.

“With the graying of America, as well as younger people having to work two or more jobs to support their families, people can’t do it,” Gabrielsen said. “I think the law is outdated,” he said. “It’s not going to be enforced. It should be changed.”

It’s not clear the town would have the capacity to clear sidewalks without adding staff.

The supervisor said during Thursday’s work session that he’s spoken with the buildings and grounds crew chief about clearing the sidewalks on Main Street.

“Let’s just say the conversations haven’t gone as well as I would like,” Walter said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.