Saturday, January 23, 2016

So You're In a Snow Emergency

It's Saturday, and it's snowing.

Mostly likely it will snow all day and into Sunday too.

Call it 'Snow-mageddon,' 'Snow-pocalypse.' 'Snowzilla,' or even its official name,"Jonas" -- whichever suits your fancy.

Bottom line is it's cold, windy and there's a ton of snow, if the forecasts were accurate.

In fact, there's so much snow, that the Borough of Pottstown has declared a state of emergency.


What does that mean exactly?

Well, if you were hoping you would find the answer on the borough's web site, you would be disappointed.

The borough text and e-mail alert system worked great, and informed those of us who signed up that a snow emergency had been declared.

But that's all it told us.

Is martial law established?

Is it now legal to engage in hand-to-hand combat with people who take your on-street parking space?

Are snow shovels legal tender for the next 72 hours?

The borough sent over a document I had hoped might be helpful. You can read it by clicking here.

I don't know that I would call any of the information it contains exactly helpful for anyone who isn't the mayor.

Essentially it is a declaration by her that the Emergency Operations Plan is to be executed and that certain procedures can be by-passed in the name of safety. Which is nice, but it does not tell me what my responsibilities are as a citizen.

At least the declaration sent out by Spring City Mayor Michael Weiss contained a useful warning:
"I hereby direct the Chief of Police and the officers of the Borough Police Force to enforce all parking regulations pertaining to the Snow Emergency Routes and ensure that such identified snow emergency routes are kept clear of parked vehicles to allow for the effective removal of snow and to ensure safe passage of vehicles traveling the snow emergency routes. The officers are authorized and further directed to ticket and tow such vehicles that are parked in snow emergency routes during the times of this Snow Emergency."
At least I've been warned about not parking on snow emergency routes, although not told what roads they are.

But hold the phone, when Phoenixville Borough sent out its declaration 24 hours earlier, they took the unprecedented step of telling you what the snow emergency routes actually are.

In a list.

With real English words.


Let me see if I've got this right: Phoenixville provided their residents with the information they needed to allow them to more easily accomplish the goal of keeping those routes clear. This is clearly a revolutionary concept that requires more study.

So in hopes I could find this information in my home borough, I turned to the borough web site once again, and typed in "snow emergency routes" in the search window.

I did get a somewhat helpful page that covers the borough's responsibilities and practices for snow removal but I still don't know if I live on a snow emergency route or not.

I do know that I should't park on High Street, thanks to a helpful Facebook post from PDIDA Downtown Manager Sheila Dugan, who writes:
And don't park your car on High Street
unless you want this to happen.
THERE WILL BE NO PARKING BETWEEN 4AM ON SATURDAY (INTO SUNDAY) AND 10AM SUNDAY. Once the parking areas are cleared, I will remove signs. IF you park in front of a business, you will risk being towed, and the building owner will not have ample parking areas plowed. PLEASE use the Reading Lot (Non-Metered Spaces) and The FRONT of Evans & High Parking lot."
And I do now know, and I do give the borough credit for this, when plowing begins and how it is conducted:
"Plowing begins when the snow reaches three inches in depth. If the snow accumulation is greater than six inches, the crews will continuously plow all snow routes to keep the streets open for emergency vehicles."
And if you've ever been plowed in after digging out, the borough offers this:
The view from behind the wheel of a Pottstown plow.
"A full-width plow is done at the end of the storm to open all streets. During plowing operations, snow is pushed to the right side of the road blocking driveways and parked cars. Residents may wish to wait until the street plowing operations are complete before digging out driveways and parked cars. The municipal parking lots are salted and/or plowed as soon as manpower is available."
And as far as the activity that will occupy most of us tomorrow, there's this information about clearing sidewalks:
"Sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner and must be cleared 12 hours after the snowstorm is over. It is illegal to throw snow from your sidewalk, driveway, or parked car into streets or alleys. If there is a fire hydrant in front of your property, please remove the snow around it. This will save time in case of an emergency."
And if you're a stickler for the letter of law, you will find this if you're willing to go digging in the code of ordinances:
The path must be at least three feet wide.
"In the removal of snow and ice, a path shall be cleared for the full width of the sidewalk, in case of any sidewalk three feet or less in width, and a path at least three feet in width shall be cleared on all sidewalks wider than three feet. The snow and ice removed from the sidewalk shall not be placed in the gutter or in the roadway or any street or alley. In case of neglect or refusal of any owner, occupant or tenant to comply with the requirements of this § 212, such snow and/or ice may be removed by any officer or employee of the Borough designated for the purpose, and the cost of such removal, with an additional penalty of 10%, shall be collected from the defaulting owner, occupant or tenant in the manner that debts incurred for curbing and paving by the Borough are now by law recoverable.

Any person who shall violate any provisions of this § 212 shall, upon conviction thereof, be guilty of an offense and shall be sentenced to pay a fine of $600 and costs of prosecution, and in default of payment of such fine and costs, to imprisonment for a period not to exceed 30 days."
$600 bucks?

Wow. I could buy a snowblower for that.

I did not learn from the borough web sit where the emergency shelter is located (Salvation Army, 137 King St.)

I did not learn from the borough web site the emergency numbers for PECO, in case my power goes out. (1-800-841-4141)

Nor did I find on the borough web site the rule that says the proud Pottstown tradition of putting plastic chairs, trash bins or other tasteful objects in the street to preserve a parking place you've just spent hours clearing is actually illegal.

I know it is because I work at a newspaper. But enough people in the borough do it after every snow that I think we can safely assume a lot of people don't.

Although it was not on the borough web site, hats off to the Pottstown Police Department for posting this tip on the subject on their Facebook page:
"It is also against Borough Ordinance to put something in the roadway to save shoveled parking spots. So even though it is very annoying for someone to park in a spot you worked so hard to shovel, it will be even more annoying to receive an expensive citation for putting something in the roadway to save it."
Two years ago, the borough leadership was gracious enough to let me go for a snow plow ride-along with Streets Supervisor Terry Jones. One of the things he talked about most is how much of the road crew's work is undone when people shovel snow out into the streets.

Well they might not do that if we told them not to do it on the borough web site, which is the place people tend to go when they're looking for information about borough rules.

And I ask myself, why is this information not front and center on the borough web site when a storm we knew was coming for days finally arrives? Certainly, it would be timely to put together a list of "things-you-should-know-in-a-snow-emergency."

Talk about missing a teachable moment.

At the last borough council meeting, Vice President Sheryl Miller suggested the formation of a "Citizen's Academy," to teach people how borough government works.

I'm not sure how many takers she'll get of people giving up hours of their lives to see how the people their taxes pay do their jobs, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction to provide the relevant information to citizens when its timely.


  1. I had the same difficulties finding any info - and do not understand now why there has been no plow at Turnberry Farms development (off of N Charlotte) as of nearly 2pm Jan 23rd. There wss a good bit more than 6" expected with this storm, and no plowing at 3" or in subsequent shifts to keep the roads open. Also no notice on the Borough website about what the heck is going on.

  2. Living on a snow emergency route is a joke... the street was actually in worse conditions than the side street. The emergency route is normally 3 cars wide... it was lucky to have 2 car widths cleared.

  3. So lack of information on the Boroughs part does not exclude the citizen from a citation? If it were me being cited, be sure to see my face in court fighting it. Additionally, people are saving spots and causing traffic jams. Furthermore, who pays for the accidents caused by dangerous intersections neglected by this town? Can we cite them? I assure you not ! Reynolds and Farmington at York and other intersections (there are many)are death traps as people can not see over the snow. The intersection of 8th and York was blocked off Wednesday night for supposed snow removal. They did not remove anything but the left side in front of Lincoln Elementary. Two way streets are one way death traps. Get it together Pottstown! You don't want complaints then do your job right.