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Hoofing it on Watertown city sidewalks has not been easy

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James Pearo, a meter reader for National Grid, can tell you about the conditions of the city of Watertown’s sidewalks this winter.

That’s because he spends a good part of his day trying to walk on them. Since the Dec. 21 ice storm, he’s often been forced to walk in the street because so many of them are impassable.

“It sucks,” he said walking along Stone Street on Monday before the snowstorm hit. “You have to walk in the street. I fall four or five times a day.”

It’s the city Code Enforcement Office’s responsibility to let property owners know they are required to shovel out sidewalks. But, with the ice storm and now this week’s snowstorm, the code enforcement office has given property owners more time to clean up clogged and icy public sidewalks, said Code Enforcement Supervisor Shawn R. McWayne.

Normally, property owners have 48 hours to remove snow, but the ice has been so thick, it’s made it impossible for them to do that, he said. They also could not obtain any rock salt or other products to melt the ice away because hardware stores and other retailers were out of stock, he said. And now there’s lots of snow.

“It’s been an unusual winter,” he said.

Before Christmas, Christine A. Shipley, code enforcement aide, sent out letters to about 20 property owners about complaints regarding unshoveled sidewalks. With the snow of the last few days, she planned to check on those sidewalks after the storm to see if they have been cleaned off, she said.

Mr. McWayne also expects a new bunch of complaints to hit his office about property owners failing to shovel sidewalks from this week’s snow.

If they remain snow- and ice-covered, the city levies a $150 surcharge to the property owner. DPW also sends out a bill, the amount of which depends on how long it takes to clear the sidewalk and the type of equipment it takes to get it done.

On Tuesday morning, Sarah M. Orton, 29, dreaded the walk to work at her job at the State Street McDonald’s after falling on the icy sidewalk in the 700 block of State Street the day before. She ended up spraining her wrist, going to Samaritan Medical Center’s emergency room and missing a day of work, she said.

The mother of a 3-year-old daughter was expected to recover from the injury in a couple of days, she hoped. Fortunately, the snowstorm closed McDonald’s on Tuesday.

“You’re risking it walking down the street,” she said about walking to work and taking care of her daughter. “It’s ridiculous.”

She believes more should be done to make sure the sidewalks are safe.

Ms. Orton, who did not realize property owners are responsible for cleaning them off, said the sidewalks have been particularly bad since the ice storm.

About 750 students of the Watertown City School District are walkers, many of whom get rides to and from school from family members, said Superintendent Terry N. Fralick. They did not have to worry about sidewalks because city schools were closed.

During the recent unusual weather patterns, he has not received any complaints from parents about sidewalk conditions. He just hopes people clear them, so students don’t end up walking in streets.

“That’s our biggest fear,” he said.

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