Snow-covered sidewalks have long been an issue in Superior, but it wasn’t always that way.
Councilor Esther Dalbec remembers the days when city crews took to the sidewalks in Bombardiers after a snowfall to clear sidewalks for pedestrians. After all, her husband worked for the city and was one of the people who drove the equipment.
“He had the North End,” Dalbec said. “That was his job, and he had the North End done in two days. Those Bombardiers were no bigger than a snowmobile and they had the V-plow on it … they were wonderful.”
Since then, city ordinance has required residents to clear the sidewalks near their homes with limited success.
Councilor Ruth Ludwig said even with code compliance enforcing the ordinance, snow-covered sidewalks are everywhere in the city, even on Belknap Street and Tower Avenue.
“What does that say about our city when we’re always talking about tourism and visitors and people can’t even get around,” Ludwig asked. “I live on Lamborn and to walk to the post office, I can’t even get to the post office staying on the sidewalk. I think it’s an issue we really need to deal with.”
The city’s Public Works Committee had an initial discussion Wednesday, Nov. 20, about restoring some level of city sidewalk snow removal service.
In preparation for the discussion, Public Works Superintendent Nathan Johnstad researched equipment that could be used and talked to communities that use them for sidewalk snow removal.
Johnstad said he would recommend bringing back the Bombardiers, now called Prinoth, if city officials decides to move forward with a plan, and he would recommend purchasing four of them to clear city sidewalks in a 48-hour window following snow.
While the Prinoth snow removal equipment comes with a price tag ranging from $100,000-$150,000, it’s the most powerful equipment available and would require less time to clear sidewalks than other options available, he said. In talking to officials in Hudsonville, Mich., Johnstad said the city with a comparable snowfall to Superior can clear 60 miles of sidewalk in a 12-hour shift.
“They said they clear every sidewalk and they use a V-Blade with a rubber cutting edge,” which helps with uneven sidewalks, Johnstad said.
“This deserves a lot more conversation … I’m looking just at numbers and if we’re going to do this, we’re looking at well over $1 million as far as staffing and equipment,” Councilor Keith Kern said. “Break that down to the number of houses we have in town, we’re looking at $117, $9.75 per month.”
It’s a question of what the city values, said Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, who brought the idea to the Committee with Ludwig for an initial discussion.
“When you think about budgeting and you think about policies, I know there’s a lot to work out,” Van Sickle said.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Kern said. “I own almost a whole city block. I hate shoveling it. I hate plowing it … It would be nice to have something go right down and take care of it.”
However, Kern said it would take a great deal more discussion before the city moved ahead with it, especially because the city couldn’t create fees to support it.
Wisconsin law prohibits local governments from enacting new fees unless there is an equal reduction in the property tax levy.
Mayor Jim Paine suggested advocating for “some amount of money” for snow removal when the City Council considers capital improvement program funding next month to determine what the Council’s priorities would be.
“It’s just kind of wasted breath if we have no way to pay for it,” Paine said. “That’s my message to the councilors: How we pay for it? Then we can have a legitimate conversation.”