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Boston May Increase Fines For Not Clearing Snow

By Andy Metzger, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 27, 2016 (State House News ServiceMajor Boston property owners may want to double-check that their snow-blowers are in working order as the city could soon receive the authority to impose much steeper fines for those who fail to keep their sidewalks free of snow.

The Rep. Dan Hunt bill (H 3326) would increase the state cap on Boston fines for uncleared snow on sidewalks from the current $300 to a new maximum of $1,500, according to the Dorchester Democrat and City Hall.

Lawmakers sent the home-rule bill to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature on Thursday.

“We ran into an issue in Dorchester two years ago when we had the catastrophic snowfall,” Hunt said. He said large property owners sometimes chose not to clear snow, or pushed it from their properties into the street.

While blizzards can transform Boston streets into a winter wonderland for spry pedestrians in snow gear, sidewalks piled with snow and ice can pose unique hazards for people who use wheelchairs or have difficulty walking around.

The bill would also allow fines of up to $1,500 on professional snow removers who dump snow in a public street. The proposed higher fine caps would not apply to apartment buildings with six or fewer units.

“I’m pleased the State legislature has passed the City’s proposed legislation to increase fines for commercial businesses who choose not to clear their sidewalks of snow,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement. “During the winter, it’s vital all businesses and residents do their part to make sure our cities and towns across the Commonwealth are safe and accessible, and I thank the legislature for their work on this issue.”

According to a Walsh aide, determining new fines would be up for discussion between the mayor and the City Council once the council reconvenes in January.

“Accessibility is very important for the city,” City Council President Michelle Wu told the News Service. Asked what she thinks would be appropriate for new snow fines, Wu said, “There needs to be another ordinance amending city code to actually set the amount of fines. I don’t have a number off the top of my head.”

Wu said a proposed ordinance to change Boston’s snow fines would go before the Government Operations Committee.

The city’s current fine structure docks property owners between $50 and $200 per day for failure to clear snow and ice from sidewalks in front of their buildings, depending on whether the building is commercial or residential and the number of residential units. The city imposes fines of between $50 and $200 for pushing snow from a private property onto a street or sidewalk, based in part on whether the amount of snow dumped is greater than one cubic yard.

Hunt said the bill filed in March 2015 took a while to clear the Legislature in part because it could affect many who live or do business in Boston and also because it increases the cap on fines.

“Sometimes it just takes a while to convince your colleagues that it’s a good idea. They see a fine increase and it triggers some thought and debate,” Hunt said.

The governor has until Jan. 1 to take action on the bill.

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