MACHIAS, Maine — The on-again, off-again, on-again debate among Machias officials about fining owners and tenants of Main Street commercial buildings for not promptly clearing sidewalks of snow is off-again, apparently for good.
A debate on the issue began last fall and has seemed to some as long-winded as last weekend’s blizzard. A draft ordinance that sparked the debate authorized the town to impose fines of up to $50 a day if public sidewalks in front of buildings in the “business parts” of Main, Center and Water streets and Colonial Way were not cleared within 12 hours of a daytime snowfall coming to an end and by 4 p.m. the next day when snow falls overnight.
Selectman Comy Upton said Monday that the five-member Board of Selectmen has agreed to jettison the snow removal requirements and fines from a proposed ordinance that covers other aspects of how public sidewalks can and can’t be used.
That discussion was prompted by a Main Street business constructing a wheelchair ramp without the town’s permission. That project, however, was completed with the blessing of the Maine Department of Transportation.
Upton opposed the proposed snow removal rules on the basis that they only applied to a select number of businesses.
“I didn’t think it was a level playing field,” Upton said Monday. “Main Street runs from the town line to the east, back to the bridge, when it becomes Dublin Street. … There are equally as many sidewalks on the west side of the bridge as the east, so how could the town be clearing those and expect the business owners on the west side to take care of theirs?
“Most Main Street business owners clear their sidewalks because they want their customers to be able to get in,” he said. “The problem is really with vacant buildings downtown. It’s a can of worms, and I would say — and I’m only one member of the board — that this is a dead issue.”
In his view, Upton said, the town has always been responsible for clearing public sidewalks of snow. He also points out that getting it done is not a priority after a major snowfall.
“We have to clear snow from around public buildings, the fire department, the police department and the airport,” he said. “Doing that and the streets have priority [over sidewalks].”
Michael Hoyt, whose family owns Machias Hardware at 25 Main St., is meticulous about keeping sidewalks in front of the store cleared of snow. In taking on the snow dumped by the weekend storm, he was confronted Sunday with more than two feet of snow.
“But I was lucky,” Hoyt said Monday. “I only had to do half of it. The wind blew away the rest. And I use a snowblower. If I had to shovel it, I’d still be out there.”
Hoyt said the town cleared other adjacent Main Street sidewalks during the overnight hours on Sunday.
“It can be two or three days [before the town clears walks after a snowstorm],” Hoyt said. “Which is why I do it myself. People need to get into the store.”