City changes snowplowing procedure around E.P. Rock School, neighbors protest
A debate over snowplowing procedures brought residents of the neighborhood surrounding E.P. Rock Elementary School to the Dec. 2 City Council meeting in force.
They were there to protest a decision by Public Works Director Tom Zeuli, affirmed by the Public Works Committee, to plow the streets surrounding the school and Newton Field in the same manner that other streets in the city are plowed.
Until now, all of the snow on 13th, Freer, Hoyt and Summer streets has been plowed toward the school property in the center.
Public Works Committee Chair Lori Bernard said the school came to the city to request an end to the practice out of concern about high snowbanks and the safety of students.
Alderperson Mary Yacoub added that the snow is sometime pushed onto school sidewalks, making them difficult to clear.
Zeuli displayed a map from 1964, when the E.P. Rock neighborhood was as far as the city extended to the south and east. Then he showed a current map, with the city covering three or four times as much area.
He said the city had 40 miles of streets and 80 lane miles to plow in 1964. Now it has 75 miles of streets and 200 lane miles, he said, and the Public Works Department has three fewer plow drivers to do the work than it did in the early 1980s.
Zeuli said the amount of time it takes to plow snow away from all the household driveways surrounding E.P. Rock School delays the snow-clearing effort and prevents drivers from getting to other areas of the city more quickly.
“We have to be fair to the rest of the community,” he said, naming some of the relatively new businesses in and near St. Croix Business Park that want to be plowed out quickly.
“Ultimately, safety is our biggest concern,” Zeuli added.
The neighborhood homeowners who spoke took a decidedly different view of the issue.
Freer Street resident Gordon Anderson said he has lived in his home since 1966, and that all the snow from the street has been plowed onto the school property the entire time.
Anderson said there are 39 homeowners on the streets surrounding the school property and not one of them was informed about the change in procedure until it happened.
Nancy Gavin, a retired E.P. Rock teacher and Hoyt Street resident, said the snowplowing courtesy could be considered a tradeoff for the inconveniences of living next to the school’s athletic fields. She said people park in front of their driveways and walk through their lawns, and litter from the school property blows onto their lawns.
Freer Street resident Bob Muchlinski said he had never previously heard any concerns about student safety because of the way the city plows the streets.
“The school district just says the word safety and the city jumps,” Muchlinski commented. “If there had been a safety concern, wouldn’t we have heard about it in the last 50 years?” he asked.
Freer Street resident Lyle Mickschl said the snowbank along Hoyt Street acts as a snow fence, saving the city the expense of erecting one.
In the end, the council took Anderson’s advice to have representatives of the city, school district and neighborhood meet to see if a compromise can be worked out. In the meantime, snow will be plowed to both sides of the streets surrounding the school property.
Alderperson John Hoggatt and Council President Rich Vanselow were the chief proponents of a meeting of the parties involved.
“I don’t think we can be so unrealistic that we don’t see if we can talk it out,” Hoggatt said.
Alderperson Lori Bernard said the city should give the same consideration to every other homeowner with an open field across the street if it continues to give the E.P. Rock neighborhood special treatment.
She said the council has made a number of tough decisions in recent years to do things in a better way. Past practice alone isn’t a reason to continue to do something, she said.
“I’ve never made a vote to get re-elected and I’m not going to start now,” Bernard said. “We’re not punishing anyone. We’re just saying we’re going to plow like we do everywhere else in the city.”
Alderperson Kurt TeWinkel said the council shouldn’t micromanage how department heads do their jobs on a daily basis.