In snow removal policies, some people are more important than others

There are times I’ve been convinced that after about three days of losing the benefits of a civilized life — electrical power, running water, fully stocked grocery stores — Americans would rebel and take to the streets.

But that theory is discredited by our passivity after two weeks of snowstorms and the need for sherpas to cross the mountain of snow between the unshoveled sidewalks and the bus waiting in the street.

Everyone has a breaking point, though, and West Duluth business owner Al Kosters is reaching his, the Duluth News Tribune suggests.

The snow is piled so high along Grand Avenue — Duluth has gotten about 26 inches of snow — that people can no longer see the storefronts, it says.

Kosters, who owns an antique shop, hammered signs into the snow piles this week.

“Support your locally owned businesses because the city doesn’t,” says one sign.

“It’s becoming a big issue,” Kosters tells the paper. “A number of businesses have been contacting the street department and have gotten no response.”

“I mean they did take their time with snow removal in downtown Duluth, but I take the bus, so I go right through Lincoln Park and downtown Duluth and I’ve seen that it’s been weeks now since they’ve removed the snow there,” Kosters said. “We haven’t had any snow removal (in West Duluth) this entire winter.”

Removing snow seems like a no-brainer for local politicians’ career paths, but as cities struggle more with removing it, there’s little evidence that the disinterest in making such a mundane task a priority is a threat.

“I was told we were on the rotation but due to cold weather that came through they had to cancel snow removal,” said West Duluth Business Club president Susan Coen. “Then they canceled that following week because it snowed and then they canceled again this week because it snowed.”

“The issue, as I understand it, is that crews have a very hard time keeping up with tier one areas when snow is this persistent,” Phil Jents, city of Duluth communication and policy officer, wrote in an email to the News Tribune. “For instance, they make a dent on tier one routes, and then more snow comes, so they have to hit reset. So it can be incredibly challenging to get into the other tiers.”

Though for the most part, Jents said, it’s the property owner’s responsibility to remove snow on sidewalks whether it’s put there by a snowplow or not.

“That said, we’re committed to reviewing our snow removal responses to better reflect a fair and equitable response to snow events moving forward,” he said.

This is the challenge cities face. They determine that some areas of the city — mostly based on traffic — are more important than others so with every snowstorm, some neighborhoods go to the front of the line, others get stiffed.

The problem is that’s not the way people are taxed for the services that, at least for some, aren’t delivered.