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Snow removal issues raise one citizen's ire

Posted: November 29, 2011 - 1:02am

With almost 50 inches of snow falling on Juneau this month, cleanup is proving to be quite a hassle. Some Juneau residents think the city isn’t doing enough fast enough.

Residents Patrick Owen and Dennis Harris spoke before the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Monday night.

Owen spoke passionately about the snowy status of the sidewalks. He said he’s lived in Juneau for many years and also other communities and hasn’t seen anything like it before.

“I’ve never seen cities where the streets got this way where the sidewalks were so messed up,” he said. “I’ve been here before on this subject. I’ve been telling people on the street, if they fall and hurt themselves on the sidewalk, sue the city. That’s what gets their attention. There is no reason you can’t budget enough money to clean them sidewalks. I know in the past you’ve done that. You need to do that.”

Harris focused on the overall state of streets and sidewalks.

“Twelfth Street is a major arterial for vehicles and pedestrians. Yesterday it was barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Our new director has not assigned the right people to do the right thing at the right time. The whole thing has gone to hell in a hand basket since Grant Ritter retired.”

Harris greeted the Public Works Department’s newest director — Kirk Duncan — who was seated in the audience, by saying he would likely hear more from him.

Harris said it’s important 12th Street is cleared efficiently because it’s an arterial where children walk to school. Instead of walking on the sidewalks, many are walking in the street, he said.

“All over the downtown Juneau area and all over town period, sidewalks are not plowed, there are berms on the sidewalks,” Harris said. “We knew what this forecast was. I presume there’s a budget for snow removal and its time to start removing it.”

City manager Rod Swope and Duncan were asked by the Assembly to address the concerns.

“First of all, I think given the circumstance of a large amount of snow quickly and with changing conditions, I’m going to say on behalf of my staff they do a darn good job,” Swope said. “I spent a lot of time driving out in the valley today. The side streets are a mess, but even as I was going out, crews were out picking up snow. ... We have over 110 miles of road we’re responsible for plowing. Again, it’s not going to be perfect but we’re doing the best we can with the staff and resources we’ve got.”

Duncan said there are two night crews and two day crews — one each for the valley and downtown with three to four people each.

He said the downtown crew noticed that if they had ATVs they could better handle the sidewalks. So, Duncan worked with two departments that have ATVs and they’re now being fitted to plow.

“It doesn’t do us any good now, but it will,” Duncan said. “We’re looking at what we do and how we can do it differently.”

Duncan also said it is the responsibility of property owners to clear sidewalks — not the city unless it is a city property.

Duncan said crews have been out every day and night this past weekend and are continuing to clear out snow.

Assembly member Karen Crane said she was driving home on Egan Drive and passed in front of the Juneau Arts & Culture Center — and saw a person fall into the street because of sidewalk conditions.

“We’ve just got to keep the sidewalks — especially when they’re borough responsibility where there really is no place for people to go,” Crane said. “Those sidewalks need to be a priority as well.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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