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Tougher codes for dealing with snowstorms set for town board public hearing March 20

Pedestrians forced into the roadway by sidewalks inaccessible due to piles of snow and ice following a snowstorm in 2014. RiverheadLOCAL file photos.

Proposed code changes town officials hope will address continuing problems during and after snowstorms are set for public hearings on March 20 at Riverhead Town Hall.

Motorists who ignore orders to stay off the roads — even roads determined so unsafe that they’ve been closed by police. Sidewalks completely blocked by piles of snow and ice days — sometimes weeks — after a big accumulating snowstorm, forcing pedestrians to walk in busy roadways. Bus shelters that can’t be accessed from sidewalks due to piles of snow and ice. Residents who refuse to heed requests to move parked cars off the streets in advance of the storm, so that plow trucks can do their job safely and efficiently. These are the persistent snow-related problems that have plagued Riverhead residents, highway crews, police and first responders for years.

Code changes now under consideration would make penalties stiffer for ignoring town directives in a snow emergency, for failing to move parked cars off town roads and for failing to keep sidewalks unobstructed by snow and ice.

A new provision makes clear that once the town supervisor declares certain roads closed under a local emergency order, only official and emergency vehicles may lawfully travel on them. The operator of any other vehicle on a road closed pursuant to a local emergency order would be guilty of a class B misdemeanor and the vehicle may be removed from the road by or at the order of police and impounded.

Another change would prohibit parking on town roads after a snow or winter storm emergency has been declared. Current code prohibits parking only between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. during such an emergency. Vehicles parked on town roads after a declaration of a winter or snow emergency are subject to removal by or at the order of police and their owners would be guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

Other proposed code changes make clear that “all owners, occupants or persons charged with control of stores, shops and other commercial premises, including churches, any public building or vacant lots located within any business, commercial or industrial zone” have a duty to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice. They would also have a duty to remove snow and ice from the immediate area surrounding any bus shelter located on or in front of their property, including the area between the sidewalk and bus shelter so pedestrians may safely gain access to the bus shelter from the sidewalk.

Owners of houses or vacant lots within residential zones and occupants of homes would have a duty to remove snow or ice from sidewalks in front of their homes or lots within 24 hours after the snowfall ends. Owners or occupants of property located within a half mile of any school shall be required to clear snow and ice from adjacent sidewalks at all times school is open. If snow and ice on any sidewalk in a residential zone is frozen so hard that it can’t be removed without injury to the sidewalk, the property owner is required to put down sand or other “suitable material” to make walking on the sidewalk safe — until the snow and ice can be cleared as required.

Penalties for failing to clear sidewalks as required would pile up more quickly under the proposed changes. Each day a violation continues to exist would now constitute a separate additional offense.

The penalty amounts were increased by a code change last April to $250 to $2,500 for the first offense, $750 to $2,500 for the second offense and $1,000 to $2,500 for the third offense.

The town has had a difficult time in the past getting some property owners along the Route 58 commercial corridor to comply with the snow-clearing requirements of the town code. Councilman James Wooten said he has written letters to every property owner on Route 58 town to inform them of their obligations under the code and of the increased penalties.

Enforcement has been difficult, since the town has limited resources for prosecuting violations in court. Officials hope that stiffer fines will inspire more universal compliance.

The March 20 hearing on snow emergency declarations and road closures is scheduled to begin at 7:10 p.m. The hearing on sidewalk clearing code revisions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

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.