The city of Duluth will be keeping closer watch on residents to make sure they're not shirking their responsibilities to keep roads and sidewalks passable this winter.

Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said city staff aim to enforce a requirement that snow be cleared from their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snow event subsiding. He said city staff will be watching to identify problem properties in their rounds but acknowledged much of the enforcement this year will remain complaint-driven.

Krizaj said a flyer will be sent to every address, including tenants and property owners throughout the city advising them of the city's expectations both for maintaining sidewalks and following parking regulations that should ensure plows can safely and efficiently clear streets of snow from curb to curb. That flyer will include a list of contractors that people can hire if they are unable to clear snow themselves.

One of the other big changes that Krizaj said people will see involves the reassignment of city staff, primarily from the parks department, who previously cleared some business sidewalks in areas like Canal Park, London Road and West Duluth by Grand Avenue and Central Avenue.

Going forward, he said: "It's going to be the business owners' responsibility to do that, because that staff is going to be reassigned to make sure that all of our city-owned sidewalks adjacent to city land are taken care of, and also backing up street plowing when the need arises, and they need more drivers."

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"One of the things that we've done throughout COVID and throughout the last year as we've looked at this is really try to get a handle on the amount of work that the city was doing just out of habit rather than out of actual responsibility," said Noah Schuchman, Duluth's chief administrative officer. "And in our need to do the best that we can with our resources in a very tough budget time, one of the things we are doing is realigning that to make sure that we're focusing first on the things that we have an obligation to clear."

Krizaj said property owners will need to be more diligent and do a better job this winter. "We saw a lot of problems last year, where people had to walk in the middle of the street," he recalled, noting that this creates an unsafe situation, particularly for people with mobility issues.

City staff had hoped to launch a snow emergency program yet this winter, but it lacks the necessary time and $500,000 in funding that would be required to install the 2,000-or-so signs that would be needed to to properly demark the 120 miles of road that have been designated as snow emergency routes, explained Jim Benning, Duluth's director of public works and utilities.

However, he remains confident the city should have systems in place and be ready to declare snow emergencies by the winter of 2021-22.

Benning said staff will attempt to tackle plowing in a targeted manner this year, especially in light of criticism that was leveled at the city for its response to a series of snowfalls that paralyzed traffic for several days around Thanksgiving last year.

This year, he said the city will strive to clear about 177 miles of main arterial roads within 36 hours of a snow event; another 274 miles of residential priority 2 roads within 48 hours; and finally 79 miles of alleys within 56 hours.

If people feel a road or alley has been neglected, Benning encouraged them to notify the city by filing a single online complaint at duluthmn.gov/snow.

In the event of an emergency event, Benning urged residents to call 911, and first responders will be dispatched to the scene, accompanied by a snow plow, if necessary.