Windsors sidewalk cops were unleashed Monday as snow and ice concerns on public rights-of-way vaulted into the top spot among citizens complaints to city hall.
"It's terrible. I almost fell on Ouellette today, and it was in front of a business in the downtown," said Crystal Dufour.
Its been 10 days since Windsors last big snowfall 12 centimetres on Feb. 1 but the cold has been unrelenting, so snow and ice remain obstacles along stretches of sidewalk that haven't seen a plow, snow blower or shovel even some in the downtown core.
"It's disgusting - they should be made to clean it," said Dufour, who was interviewed while walking through the slush outside the Beer Store in the 700 block of Goyeau Street. Across the street, city parking meters remain almost completely buried under more than a metre of snow along a nearly block-long stretch of impassable sidewalk that looks like it hasn't seen a snow shovel this winter.
"There was this guy downtown in a wheelchair, he kept running into snowdrifts and people kept pulling him out," said Lyle Papps. The Windsor man was interviewed Monday afternoon while on his way downtown, trudging through sidewalk snow in the 900 block of Ouellette Ave.
If you're a pedestrian, better bring sturdy boots to negotiate the sidewalk in front of such addresses as Colautti Landry Law Office at 961 Ouellette.
"Our maintenance guy is sick Im sure hell be clearing it," said a law student at the firm who refused to give his name. Nobody else was available for comment Monday afternoon.
The threat of slip-and-fall lawsuits is one of the reasons the city has begun clamping down on Windsor businesses and home occupants who ignore, sometimes repeatedly, municipal bylaws requiring snow and ice to be cleared away after a storm. The deadline is four hours for a commercial address and 12 hours for residential, but city officials, at councils request, have shown leniency, backing off on enforcement until municipal public works crews have finished their road clearing efforts.
"The reason we're out there now is, there's a point where you educate, and then there's a point where you ticket," city chief building official Lee Anne Doyle said Monday. She described as puzzling and surprising the high number of Windsorites who seem to just ignore the accumulated snow and ice on their portion of sidewalk.
"Right now, it is the top complaint, definitely," said Doyle. Last week, city officials were handling about 120 complaint calls a day, with about 1,500 complaints tallied since the start of the winter, she said.
Exact numbers were unavailable Monday, but Doyle estimates that, as of the start of this week, about 10 percent or 150 home and business property owners had been slapped with $125 fines and/or had their sidewalks cleared by crews contracted by the city, the cost of which (about $200 and up) is attached to the owners property tax bill.
Doyle said about 250 complaints remained open investigations and that enforcement officers would be considering taking repeat offenders to court, where judges have the power to levy fines of up to $5,000. Absentee landlords are among the worst of the repeat offenders, according to city officials.
"Call 311 - we just need to know the address," Doyle said of the complaints process. She said there are sometimes reasons why a sidewalk isn't cleared, with the owner either away on travel or too infirm to do it themselves.
"I understand a warning, as a courtesy, for a first time but about 40 minutes ago I watched a person in a wheelchair going down a lane (on Ouellette)," said Roy Fells. Walking through the thick snows of the 900 block of Ouellette as traffic zipped by along the busy adjacent street, he said some property owners are diligent, but if one address on any given block fails to do its duty, someone in a wheelchair, on a scooter or with a kid ends up with a challenge.
"The city definitely has some liability - slip and fall and trip and fall are very high on the list (of lawsuits) we get," said city solicitor Shelby Askin Hager. As with most other Ontario municipalities, she said Windsor doesn't clear sidewalks, the cost of which would be a tremendous burden to city taxpayers.
City Hall's apparent patience with those who don't properly follow Windsors sidewalk clearing bylaw is perhaps a little more understandable when considering the type of winter it's been.
Windsor has broken it's snowfall record for the period to date, with 168.4 centimetres fallen since November. That's a third more than an entire average winter's worth - 129 centimetres through April.
"What stands out for me about Windsor is not only the amount of snow but the frequency of your snow days," Environment Canada senior climatologist Dave Phillips told The Star Monday.
"On 64 of the previous 71 days - 90 per cent of those days - Windsor was hit by either measurable snow or traces of snow (anything that whitens the ground)," according to Phillips.
"Coupled with the cold, you've had no break at all," he said, adding that January, with 93.6 centimetres of snowfall, was Windsors snowiest of any month, anytime.