Metro, Newton

Newton Faces Days-Long Cleanup Effort after 18.1 Inches of Snowfall

The winter storm on Jan. 28 and 29 brought 18.1 inches of snowfall and set in motion a familiar yet difficult process for Newton’s Department of Public Works’ (DPW) Streets Division: snow removal.

Shane Mark, director of the Streets Division, outlined the division’s procedures to ensure safe travel in the days following a snowstorm.

In the days leading up to the storm, the Streets Division soaked the roads with a mixture of salt brine and beet juice, which helped to delay snow and ice from freezing on the roads, Mark said.

Due to the heightened demand for snow-related services, Newton usually relies on its own snow-clearing equipment and workers when facing a storm this large, according to Mark.

“It’s tough to get additional pieces in events like this because contractors and people that do snow and ice removal and plowing are already committed to other communities,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mark said that the DPW was well equipped. According to Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s update on Jan. 29, the city deployed 186 pieces of equipment during the peak hours of the blizzard. 

The Streets Division cleaned up the streets for cars to drive safely, but there remains room for improvement, Mark said. 

One of the main issues is the buildup of snowbanks and piles along the roadside, according to Mark. The lack of places to store snow in Newton, and the amount of snowfall, exacerbated the problem.

Newton resident Ollie Coughlin said that she saw some improvements with the cleanup of this storm compared to previous years.

“I noticed that a walkway, … typically it’s not shoveled by the city, but this time it was,” she said.

Mark acknowledged that the large snowbanks are an inevitable challenge when the snow total climbs over a foot, and he said it is an issue without an easy solution.

“We don’t have places to store all the snow, so it’s just an inevitable part of plowing,” Mark said. “[The key] is really just mitigating those piles and hauling those piles away to prevent line-of-sight issues and accidents after the storm.”

Newton enforced snow–related sidewalk ordinances for both business owners and homeowners. Coughlin said she and others received emails from the city reiterating the ordinances before the storm.

According to Newton’s winter weather brochure for 2021 and 2022, DPW is responsible for removing snow from streets and sidewalks surrounding city-owned land. Property owners are responsible for clearing their own sideways and ramps. Failing to comply will result in warnings and possible fines, according to the brochure.

Residential property owners must maintain a non-slippery, walkable area free of snow and ice in the 24 hours after the storm, according to Newton’s ordinances. For commercial buildings, institutional buildings, residential properties with more than four dwelling units, and buildings within business districts, the timeframe is 12 hours. 

Potential consequences for untreated sidewalks consist of a written warning from the city for residential properties on the first offense during the snow season—which spans from Oct. 1 to April 15—and $50 for each subsequent offense during that time period.

For businesses, the first offense is a $100 fine, going up to $300 for the third offense and each subsequent offense afterward.

Mark said the DPW investigates city sidewalks and some residential properties, while the Newton Police Department seeks out businesses that do not comply with the ordinance.

According to Mark, the city began enforcing these rules more strictly over the last few years. 

“The fines are starting to work, especially in the second year [of stricter enforcement]—and it’s all about communication,” Mark said.

He noted that various neighborhood groups sent out emails about the fines. 

Mark said he suggests that Newton residents remain patient when facing future storms—especially when it comes to allowing snow-removal crews the time and space to clear the roads.

“During these snowstorms, do not venture out if you do not need to go outside,” Mark said. “Don’t crowd the plows, and try to be patient at the end of the storm. These large storms create lots of issues, … so it takes us days and days to clean up. We’re working through addressing those issues, and we appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding.”

Featured Image by Victor Stefanescu / Heights Editor

February 5, 2022