The city of Boise has a law requiring private property owners to clear snow from sidewalks and gutters in front of their properties “so as to allow citizens to use the sidewalks in an easy, safe and commodious manner.”
“And every person neglecting or refusing to comply with the provisions of this Section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor,” the city’s law reads.
State Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, thinks that law might not be valid because it contradicts state law. According to state code, highway districts such as Ada County Highway District are responsible for maintenance of city streets as well as curbs, gutters and other infrastructure in the district’s right-of-way.
Some sidewalks are not in ACHD’s right-of-way, and some streets are private, so the district isn’t responsible for maintaining them. About 4,600 miles of sidewalks are in the highway district’s right-of-way, spokesman Craig Quintana said in an email.
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Gannon recently asked the Idaho Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on whether state law requires highway districts like ACHD to clear snow from city sidewalks and streets.
“The short answer is yes,” Assistant Chief Deputy Brian Kane wrote in a letter Monday.
Kane went on to explain that, although highway districts have long been required to maintain their rights-of-way, including curbs and gutters, the definition of “maintenance” has included “snow removal” only since 2013.
“Our lawyers think the AG is wrong and are working on a reply,” Quintana said. “Also, remember that such opinions do not have the force of law, which is made in the courtroom or the Statehouse.”
Like many frustrated Ada County residents, Gannon thinks ACHD hasn’t met its responsibility to maintain its streets “in a suitable state for use” as required by state law.
Partly, this is because the highway district hasn’t cleared snow from all of the sidewalks in its jurisdiction.
Furthermore, Gannon wonders if Boise’s law requiring private property owners to clear sidewalks should be repealed. The city hasn’t cited people for not shoveling their sidewalks, city spokesman Mike Journee said.
But if Boise charged them with misdemeanors, as stated in city code, could the defendant fight the charge based on the fact that state law makes highway districts responsible for sidewalk snow removal?
Journee said the city’s legal department is reviewing Kane’s opinion and considering its implications but hasn’t settled on a response.
“We’ll see what it means and go from there,” he said.