Emergency snowplowing ordinance not being used

Duluth City Councilor Roger Reinert looked up from the bottom of Fourth Street, off Mesaba Avenue on Monday, and waited as four cars made their way down.

Duluth City Councilor Roger Reinert looked up from the bottom of Fourth Street, off Mesaba Avenue on Monday, and waited as four cars made their way down.

Then he shot up the street, hoping not to meet an oncoming car.

The street is officially two lanes, but because of snow the plows never reached, was only one lane Monday.

"There's not enough space for two cars to pass," Reinert said.

It was an example of why he's been disappointed that so far the city hasn't used the recently revised snow emergency ordinance he helped rewrite.


The goal of rewriting the ordinance was allow plows to move the snow on residential streets faster, meaning far fewer streets narrowed by snowbanks.

Not declaring a snow emergency during heavier snowstorms makes it much harder for the city to clear the snow quickly, Reinert said, and leaves a lot of streets with room for only one car at a time to get through.

"It's a safety issue in a lot of the old neighborhoods," Reinert said. "It's about efficient, safe clearing of snow."

It's up to Jim Benning, Public Works interim director, to declare a snow emergency. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

A snow emergency has rarely, if ever, been declared in Duluth, not even for the 1991 Halloween storm. But even if one had been declared, under the old ordinance, it wouldn't mean much.

The previous ordinance only forbade parking on snow emergency routes.

Modeled after the Minneapolis ordinance, the changes approved last summer by city councilors included a new, three-stage process for clearing streets.

The day a snow emergency is declared, no parking is allowed on snow emergency routes.


The day after the storm, drivers are allowed to park on the side of the street dictated by the city's calendar parking regulation while plows clear the other side.

On the third day of a snow emergency, all vehicles should be parked on the plowed side, so plows can remove the remaining snow.

Sheri Coleman, who trudged through the slush and snow toward her Wellington Street home Monday afternoon, wishes Duluth would enact the same three-day snow emergency procedure the Twin Cities has.

"As long as they give the public notice," Coleman said, she would prefer the city use a snow emergency system, so snow would largely be gone less than a week after a storm. "It is pretty crowded, driving through here."

The lack of plow drivers -- the city had 64 in the late 1980s, compared with 29 today -- is part of the reason that Barb Kolodge, Duluth parks and street maintenance supervisor, suspects the city isn't ready to declare snow emergencies.

She doesn't decide when a snow emergency is declared.

"There have been a couple storms when we sure could have used it," she said. But one potential pitfall is if plow drivers couldn't get to every street in the first two days. On the third day, there'd be a lot of confusion on some streets about whether people should move their cars to the unplowed side.

The other problem is that the public must first be informed of the change.


"We as a city have to do a media blitz," Kolodge said, so every city resident is aware of the new system and what is required by it.

If some residents moved their cars in two days, and others followed the old week-later rule, then a plow couldn't get through the street, Kolodge said.

"There's no doubt about it," Kolodge said. "The snow is a difficult thing to deal with."

PATRICK GARMOE can be reached at (218) 723-5229 or .

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