LOWELL | Downtown merchants are upset about the walls of snow they say are blocking access to their shops.
Several of them complained to the Town Council, sparking a discussion of what the town's role is or should be when snow piles up and there is nowhere to put it.
"This winter is a little unusual," said Renae Helton, owner of Aunt Nae's in the historic downtown district. "Times are bad enough. Then, to lose business to the snow, it's difficult."
Councilman Robert Philpot, R-2nd, said a letter from some business owners leads him to believe the town needs to find a solution.
"It's close to impossible for customers to get to the sidewalk," he said.
The downtown district lies along Ind. 2. Plowing has created walls of snow along the pavement, blocking access to the sidewalk and stores.
Councilman Craig Earley, D-1st, said the council must consider whether it could help all businesses if those in the one-block downtown are helped with snow removal.
"Where would we stop?" Earley asked.
Director of Public Works Greg Shook said it cost the town $1,800 in overtime, without considering fuel, maintenance and other costs, for the five hours it took street department crews to remove snow in the downtown area and haul it away in dump trucks. That was done twice during recent heavy snows.
Jim Sickinger, of Sickinger Jewelry, and Helton said they appreciated the two times the snow was removed.
"We're not here asking you to shovel our sidewalks ... but the situation is a safety issue," Sickinger said.
He suggested the town and merchants could be vulnerable to lawsuits if known safety issues are not addressed.
Philpot said parking in areas to be plowed is also an issue.
Town Attorney David Westland said the council approved, but did not have codified, an ordinance in 2008 that made it unlawful to park on any town street during the 12 hours following a snowfall of 2 inches or more.
Council Vice President Don Parker, D-3rd, said that is difficult to enforce, particularly in extreme snow conditions such as those recently experienced. He said his neighbor was forced to park in the street because there was literally nowhere else to go.
Police Chief Erik Matson said officers tracked down owners of vehicles parked on Ind. 2 and got the vehicles removed without issuing citations.
Shook said he will tally expenses related to snow removal and provide that to the council when it meets next.
Councilman Phillip Kuiper, D-4th, commended Shook and his crews for a job well done. He said those coming to Lowell were impressed with how well the streets had been cleared.