Wenatchee tightens up snow-shoveling ordinance in wake of Jan. 6 blizzard

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A Wenatchee resident shovels snow along Fifth Street during the record snowstorm of Jan. 6, 2022.

WENATCHEE —The record Jan. 6 winter storm exposed a problem in the city of Wenatchee’s snow removal ordinance: Residents and property owners were required to clear hazardous snow piled on sidewalks, but if they refused, the city wasn’t required to do the job for them.

On Thursday, the city council adopted a new emergency ordinance that says Wenatchee crews will clear those neglected sidewalks in the future — but after that, they’ll send a bill to the landowner.

“It is a longtime, since the 1960s, city requirement that residents have to remove snow from the sidewalk adjacent to their property,” Public Works director Rob Jammerman told the council. “We gave people some grace, and we stated getting calls early this week that sidewalks, especially in high-pedestrian areas near the schools, were not being cleared.”

The existing city code made failure to remove sidewalk snow a civil infraction, with penalties in Chelan County District Court. But there was no provision for the city to do the snow removal itself, or to seek reimbursement from landowners once it was done.

The record-breaking 24-inch snowfall challenged both cities and private residents who had to clear streets and walkways, as well as find places to put all the snow that precipitated nonstop from Jan. 6 through subsequent days.

The emergency ordinance amends the city code to issue written notice to properties that aren’t in compliance, then allows Public Works to hire contractors to do the clearance work if it’s not complete within a specified time. The city can then assess the costs of removal and seek to recoup it from the property holder, with a hearing examiner ruling on whether the assessment is reasonable.

Owners will also be given lists of resources, Jammerman said, such as contractors they can privately hire and volunteer groups to do snow removal for residents who aren’t physically or financially able to do so themselves.