Town regs anticipate winter road and safety needs

From the Desk of New London Town Administrator Jessie Levine

Our first big winter storm arrived, fortunately coinciding with the School District’s winter break, which takes a little pressure off the local highway departments.  I am thankful that the road crews did not have to work Christmas Day and most of the following day, allowing them valuable time with families before duty called.

Even the run-of-the-mill winter storms bring their share of problems, which most towns try to anticipate and mitigate in the form of winter parking ordinances.  New London, for example, has a number of winter ordinances that follow state law and are designed to make it easier for the roads to be cleared as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

In March 1993, the Board of Selectmen adopted a local ordinance that made it illegal to deposit snow or ice upon a traveled roadway or public sidewalk that would cause it to be unsuitable for travel by person, vehicle, or snow plow.  This ordinance closely follows New Hampshire RSA 236:20, which does not allow snow to be put or placed on a state highway unless for “crossing, recrossing and traveling upon said highways by sleds, logging or farm equipment.”

Though illegal (and advertised annually), it is not uncommon in New London for private snow plow operators to leave snow in the roadway, often inadvertently.  In addition to the frustration factor of working 8-24 hours to remove snow from the roads only to have it reappear, once town personnel have cleared the roads of snow and are out sanding, they now have to rescrape that section of road where snow has been deposited.  If the snow that has been deposited or left in the road melts and refreezes, it creates an ice hazard that could damage town plows and, even worse, cause a motor vehicle accident. In that case, the abutter may be held liable for any injuries or damages caused by those conditions, including the cost to the town to correct the conditions caused by the private property owner.

It is the town’s responsibility to clear snow from the public roadway, which includes the right to deposit snow into the town’s right-of-way alongside every road (the end of private driveways are included in the town’s right-of-way).  Private property owners do not have the same right to deposit snow from private property into the public roadway; private property owners must find space on their own property to store snow.

Per State law (NH RSA 236:21), it is a misdemeanor to cover a fire hydrant with snow, ice, or any debris that causes the fire hydrant to be inaccessible.  Please help us by notifying any private snow removal contractors to avoid the obstruction of any fire hydrants, fire ponds, or dry hydrants located near your property.  In addition, snow must be removed from any emergency fire exits of buildings that are open to the public.

There has been some question recently about the Town’s responsibility to remove snow from sidewalks.  Putting aside the economic benefits of assisting our businesses that rely on foot traffic, case law has found against the concept of requiring abutters to maintain public sidewalks.  Even more compelling, however, is a decision issued by the NH Supreme Court in June 2009 striking down the Town of Tilton’s decision not to maintain a section of sidewalk.

The New Hampshire Local Government Center’s Town & City Magazine included the following summary of the case: “In its order (which was not officially “reported” and therefore is not citable as precedent), the Court considered whether the ADA required the town to clear a particular sidewalk of ice and snow so that the plaintiff, a citizen riding a motorized scooter, could pass over the sidewalk throughout the winter. The town had decided to close the sidewalk for the winter rather than clear it after every storm. However, the Court found this unacceptable under the ADA because the law requires the reasonable removal of snow and ice. The Court stated that “the refusal to remove any snow is not a reasonable limit upon the removal of snow, but is an abdication by the town of its obligation altogether.”  The LGC’s summary goes on to say: “The Tinker decision … applies only to that particular stretch of sidewalk in that particular town, rather than to all municipal roads and sidewalks in New Hampshire. Having said that, however, the decision is an indication of the direction future opinions may take.”

In November 1999, the Board of Selectmen passed a local ordinance making it illegal to park a motor vehicle on any street, roadway or public parking lot in New London between 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM from November 1 to April 1 (the winter dates do not apply to Main Street, where it is illegal to park overnight year-round).  The winter overnight parking ban allows plow operators to clear the roadways without having to maneuver around (in the best case scenario) obstacles caused by cars parked on the roads.  Cars parked in the roadway on winter nights will either be towed or the homeowner will be awakened by a phone call from the Police Department in the uncomfortable wee hours of the morning.

Also in November 1999, the Board of Selectmen adopted an ordinance that makes it illegal, during a declared snow emergency, for vehicles to park on the south side of Main Street, including during daytime hours.  These snow emergencies are declared by the State Department of Transportation, which makes them known by alerting the Police Department and Town Offices and by posting signs with orange flags indicating that the snow parking ban is in effect.  Even when a snow emergency has not been declared, you can make it easier for the State road crews to clear Main Street by parking off street or on the north side of the street.

The Governor’s Commission on Disability recently sent an announcement to municipalities reminding us that pursuant to RSA 265:74-a, it is illegal to pile snow into or otherwise obstruct a [handicap] accessible parking space or access aisle (this includes people parking in or blocking the accessible spaces at the Town Offices to “run into the Town Clerk’s Office”).  Accessible parking spaces and access aisles must be cleared within 24 hours of an adverse weather event, and signs designating these parking spaces and aisles that are removed or relocated for the purpose of snow removal must be immediately returned.  Furthermore, the route of travel from the accessible parking space to the accessible building entrance must be kept clear of snow and ice at all times.

And finally, as calls to our Police, Fire and Public Works Departments rise with the increase of bad weather, our Director of Public Works thought it would be worth a word of caution about tires: at the start of the winter season, check your car’s tires and make sure they have adequate tread.  All season radials – especially after a year or two — may not be the best choice for winter driving in New Hampshire.  Good snow tires can make a world of difference.

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