The Ada County Highway District wrote in a letter this week that it found at least four reasons an opinion from the Idaho Attorney General’s office on snow removal involving more than 4,000 miles of public sidewalks is wrong.
The analysis came in response to State Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, who wrote to the highway district Jan. 25 complaining that the highway district’s snow removal efforts were lacking. Gannon’s correspondence included an opinion from Assistant Chief Deputy AG Brian Kane that ACHD, not the cities inside its boundaries, is responsible for clearing sidewalks.
“We find the opinion to be deeply flawed and to be impractical for implementation in the real world,” ACHD President Paul Woods wrote. “Moreover, I take exception to your characterization of ACHD’s response being lacking, particularly in the face of a record-breaking, snow-and-cold weather event that has not been seen for many decades.”
District attorney Steve Price took issue with Kane’s analysis of Idaho law. He said Kane relied on the wrong state code definition of the word “maintenance.” That definition lists “snow removal” as one of the duties of maintaining roads.
Price said Kane instead should have relied on a definition of “maintenance” that includes engineering, lighting, traffic control and drainage, but not snow removal.
Price pointed to case law that says specific definitions like the one he cites hold sway over general definitions like the one Kane pointed to.
Second, Price argues that when the Legislature added “snow removal” to the above definition of “maintenance” in 2013, lawmakers did not intend to add snow removal on public sidewalks to the duties of highway districts like ACHD.
“That concept was never contemplated, much less addressed, in creating or debating the amendment,” Price wrote. “Instead, the legislative history demonstrates that the legislative intent was only to address private property rights and governmental jurisdiction.”
Third, Price says cities, through police powers enumerated in the Idaho Constitution, have authority to regulate care of sidewalks. Highway districts don’t have that authority, he said. Most cities have ordinances that make keeping sidewalks clear the responsibility of the adjacent landowner.
Fourth, Price claims that interpreting state law to mean that ACHD has responsibility “to remove snow from all of these sidewalks — which would span a distance of Boise to New York City and back — is a palpably absurd result and that should be rejected.”