Life is much easier when everybody plays by the same set of rules. Unfortunately, there are times when the rules change out from under us and we don’t notice. Ideally, everybody would be following the City Council meetings and keeping close notes on decisions by the County Commissioners, but few of us actually do so. When it comes to clearing snow in Red Lodge, the rules have changed recently, but they are really not that complicated.
Thanks to City Council member Bill Foisy for sending me all of the relevant code sections and ordinances!
Central Business District
In Red Lodge, those rules are divided into two sections. The first deals with the central business district and the responsibilities of building owners:
“For the reasons of pedestrian safety, it shall be the duty of the owners, tenants and/or occupants of property adjoining any of the sidewalks located within the Central Business or Central Business Transition Zoning Districts of the city to keep such sidewalks free from snow and ice. Snow and ice shall be removed from such sidewalks by such owners, tenants and/or occupants by 10:00 A.M. the day after the cessation of any storm. (Ord. 875, 4-14-2009)”
For the most part, the downtown business owners do this without being told. It makes sense to keep access open to your business. There is a problem, however, with unoccupied buildings and businesses that aren’t open seven days a week. All it takes is one storefront with snow piled in front, and the whole block looks inaccessible to pedestrians.
There are volunteers who jump in and clear sections of sidewalk downtown on their own: Milt Bastian and Tim Buckstead are often out with their small snowplows, and Ken Karina with his snowblower. Some tenants or owners hire people to shovel. For those who don’t take the trouble, the City of Red Lodge has put some teeth into the ordinance:
- 1st Offense: Written notification by certified mail.
- 2nd Offense: $50.00 fine.
- 3rd Offense: $100.00 fine.
- 4th or subsequent offense within a two year period: Charge of “maintaining a public nuisance”, pursuant to MCA §45-8-111.
The rest of Red Lodge
What about everyone else in town, though? And what is the City’s responsibility?
All of that changed in October of 2012, when the City passed Ordinance #896, which repealed all previous snow clearing codes. The ordinance starts by making the City’s responsibilities clear:
“The City Council recognizes that many factors (wind, amount of snow, time of snow events, temperature, equipment and staffing ability) affect the ability to remove snow and ice from the streets. As such, a formal schedule for removal is unrealistic.”
That said, the ordinance goes on to say that the Public Works Department will try to keep the snow out of the driving lanes of public rights-of-way by 11:00 a.m. “the day after the cessation of any storm.” Note that Highways 78 and 212 are specifically excluded, as they are the responsibility of the state, not the city.
Note also that they refer to specifically the driving lanes. We’ll talk about parking lanes in a moment.
Removal of snow from sidewalks is the responsibility of the property owner. The City isn’t going to take care of it for you or help you to do it.
When you clear the snow off of your sidewalk, what are you supposed to do with it? The City doesn’t particularly care, as long as you keep it on your own property or well over to the side of the street. The ordinance specifically states:
“It shall be unlawful for residents to dispose of snow accumulations from public or private property within the moving lanes of any public right-of-way.”
First offense is a warning, and the second is a $100 fine. All subsequent offenses are $300 fines.
Since the ordinance specifically refers to the “moving lanes” on the road, can you just toss all of the snow in the parking lane? Sometimes, that’s your only choice. We need to work together, though, and remember that none of us own the street. In Red Lodge, you can park in front of any private residence or commercial building as long as you stay on the public street and you don’t block driveways or garages.
Speaking of parking, who is responsible for clearing out the parking lanes on the road, and what happens if you get plowed in? The ordinance doesn’t address that issue head-on. What it does do is manage expectations. We are much less likely to be disappointed if we have realistic expectations of what the City will and won’t do with snow.
Section 2 of the ordinance says that removal of snow from parking lanes by the City “may occur” after driving lanes are all cleared. Not that it will occur, or even that they’ll try to do it. It “may occur.”
Section 3 goes even farther:
“Given the development pattern of the City it is impossible for the Department [of Public Works] to avoid pushing snow in a manner that may inconvenience property owners. Residents need to accept the fact that we live in snow country and that snow removal operations may restrict free use of encroachments onto the public right-of-way.”
Harsh, right? How about section 4:
Cars parked along public rights-of-way during and immediately following a snow event are subject to being plowed in during snow removal and widening operations. Being plowed in does not constitute an exemption to the parking limitations imposed by State Law or other City Ordinances.
Let’s sum that up: As I mentioned above, we do not own the streets in front of our houses or commercial buildings. When we park on them, we’re parking on public property. The City will do its best to clear the snow from the streets the morning after a storm (no guarantees while it is still snowing), but your car is your own responsibility. If you leave it parked on the street, you have to dig it out and move it before the City can plow the side of the street. If you leave it there for too long, they may ticket you.