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Morning Poll: Expand the Snowblower Loan Program?

by ARLnow.com December 13, 2010 at 9:55 am 2,590 28 Comments

Now that Arlington County has on its books an official snow removal ordinance, which makes failure to clear the sidewalk in front of your property a civil offense punishable by fines, demand for the county’s snowblower loan program is apparently skyrocketing.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the board on Saturday that the county has received requests for 50-60 snowblowers so far this winter. Arlington only has about ten snowblowers available to loan to local civic associations.

Faced with that news, the board seemed willing to expand the snowblower loan program, the goal of which is to allow citizens to clear publicly-owned sidewalks in their neighborhoods. The program also allows civic associations to clear sidewalks for elderly or disabled neighbors who aren’t capable of doing so themselves.

“The goal has to be to get the sidewalk shoveled,” said board member Barbara Favola. “This, in my mind, is a tool to get us there.”

“The snowblower program… allows those area that are the county’s responsibility to get done earlier than if we waited for county employees to get done with their snow clearing responsibilities on the roads,” noted board member Mary Hynes. The board asked Donnellan to report back on the program, but did not take any concrete action.

While the board was unanimous in its praise of the program, at least one local civic association leader cautioned that the program could “grow out of control.”

“The county lacks storage space, and buying snowblowers or snow shovels for us is not your role,” said Chick Walter, president of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association. He said the program has been “glaringly unsuccessful” in terms of only benefiting a few county neighborhoods.

Walter urged the county to end the program and donate the existing snowblowers to local civic associations.

If you were sitting on the board, what would you do?

  • What happened to Common Sense

    Why can’t the neighborhood associations buy their own snow blowers? Is it because too many are dominated by blowhards who cannot actually accomplish anything positive? My neighborhood association has only a handful of people attend meetings (ignoring the quorum requirements) but then declares to the County Board that “the neighborhood” supports the narrow view of few. Last year when the snow blower issue came up, the great leaders of the association found every excuse to avoid real accomplishments (“training” “maintenance” “coordinator”). It’s a snow blower — turn it on and blow the snow; have it serviced once a year. Simple.

    • CadeTyler

      Simple solution.
      1. Strap blowhards to wheelbarrow
      2. Have blowhards blow snow hard
      3. ???
      4. Profit!

    • mehoo

      Somewhere there is an NC president saying “why can’t homeowners buy their own snowblowers…”

  • Rover

    I wish everyone would just buy a snow shovel and shovel the 30 feet of sidewalk in front of their place. Yes, I realize the elderly and otherwise hampered may not be able to shovel. They’d not be able to handle a snow blower either. That is where good neighbors come in. Do we have those anymore?

    • mehoo

      Yes, how many people need snowblowers in Arlington? A few feet of sidewalk, a few inches of snow most winters (if any). Use a shovel. If you’re too old or disabled to use a shovel, you probably can’t use a snowblower anyway, so either way you hire some kid to do it.

      Just like with leafblowers.

  • NorthAdams

    I have lived in Arlington FOREVER and have NEVER EVER heard of this.
    Plus, if I can get to the court house to borrow this thing, is it really that bad?
    As for “WHT common sense” — 100% true. Our civic association has 12 people representing 800 people. It is absurd the Board keeps giving these people cred.

    • AllenB

      Sounds like you have a homeowners association problem, not a problem with the board. The board needs to be able to rely on some groups to represent their homeowners. And if in yours and other, associations you can’t get to a meeting once a month, that shows the apathy of your homeowners.

      • NorthAdams

        It is not a homeowners association, but rather our civic association.
        The board chooses to listen to who they want. Watch them in action. They sometimes even leave when certain people speak. Or play with their blackberries.
        Our association meets monthly and we have twelve people show up and make the decisions for 800 — if people didn’t like it they’d change it. Of course that is assuming they actually are aware of what is going on.
        The board should govern for all of Arlington, not just those who show up to pontificate and grandstand. yet the board eats that up and lets people grandstand and responds to them. they should know better. not sure they do.

        • mehoo

          Sounds like people need to show up at the meetings. Or run for an office.

          Just like with all elected offices, if you don’t show up (i.e. even to vote) you aren’t heard. Too bad.

  • Aaron

    Yes, every homeowner, including the elderly, should at least own their own shovels. That (and $5-$20) would be all it would take to get your walk cleared, even in the absence of county-owned snowblowers or good neighborliness.

  • Chris

    How many sidewalks in the County are the responsibility of the County (as opposed to being the responsibility of homeowners, businesses, schools, churches, etc.)? I can’t imagine that there are too many such sidewalks. It seems that mostly this is a program designed to help neighborhoods clear their sidewalks more effectively … which, while being a nice thing, may not be a function the county offices need to perform, especially if the program’s effectiveness is questionable.

    Seriously, how often does Arlington get snowblower-worthy snow, anyway? Just buy a shovel and take responsibility for your own sidewalk, and lend a hand to your neighbor.

    • Let’s Be Free

      The County is responsible for clearing I would guess 50 plus miles of sidewalks. There are big swaths of parkland bordered by sidewalks. Just take George Mason Drive as an example, it has sidewalks fronting on Lacey Woods Park, Field’s Park, Bluemont Junction Park, Lubber Run Park, Alcova Heights Park, Doctor’s Run Park, Arlington Hall Park, and Barcroft Park. Huge parks like Bon Air, Bluemont, Barcroft and GlenCarlyn front various and sundry roads and sidewalks. Then there are major complexes like Walter Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Quincy Park.

      There are dozens of parks and dozens of schools. Plus the County is responsible for sidewalks at Libraries, Community Centers and Maintenance facilities.

      A well prepared and well functioning County (same for APS) would have some small plow and tire chain equipped tractors (some grass cutting equipment is adaptable) it could deploy to clear these sidewalks (or a requirements contract with a firm or firms such as lawn service companies to do the same). It is absurd given the scope of the effort to rely on snowblowers and volunteer labor to clear public sidewalks after a major storm.

      • mehoo

        I’m one of those guys who taunts the anti-tax, anti-spending rightwing complainers in Arlington, but I don’t think we need to spend tax money just to clear a few inches of snow a few days a year.

        • Let’s Be Free

          Don’t need to spend much money if equipment on hand is fitted with plows and janitorial/maintenance folks already on staff do the work (this is how it was done when I lived in the upper Midwest). These people cut the grass in the summer, they can push snow off of sidewalks two or three times a winter.

          • Westover

            And they do. At Swanson Middle School the staff was out all winter trying to keep up with the falling snow. There are kids that walk to Swanson from Dominion Hills on Patrick Henry Dr crossing over I-66. The bridge is close to a quarter mile of sidewalk not in front of anyone’s home. It was a bit much for clearing with a shovel after a regular winter’s snow fall, last winter was impossible and the kids ended up having to walk to school over a trecherous bridge for over a wee The snow blower programs would be a good one if properly setup and managed. When I learned about the program late Fall last year I tried to get one of them, but by then they were all passed out. Name was first on the list, so I was told, this year, but have heard nothing so far from the county.

  • G::TheNativeArlingtonian

    Civic associations = people creating rules for other people, not for themselves. County Board snow blower lending = you’re kidding me right? How do they get them to people? I think we’d be better served if the county board and our happy civic leaders got out there and with their happy shovels and did something useful other than create new rules that create new problems for their citizens.

    • mehoo

      “Civic associations = people creating rules for other people, not for themselves.”

      Huh? They aren’t subject to their own rules?

  • Val

    I shoveled for my neighbor last winter, and I wish people in the neighborhood I walk through to get to my bus stop (Penrose) would have done that last year. And they were not all elderly. Walking in the street with several feet of snow piled up is no fun, not to mention dangerous. Good neighbors is what we all need.

    • PikeHoo

      No kidding on the better neighbors. I shoveled my next door neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk last year too because I didn’t want her house to look unoccupied as is in the Army and was serving in Iraq. There were a couple houses with at least 3 middle school age kids (read-free shoveling labor) who didn’t lift a finger. Pathetic.

  • PikeHoo

    We don’t get enough snow in VA to warrant the snow blower program. If it snows, get up off your behind and shovel the sidewalk in front of your house. This is not a big deal. It’s part of being a responsible home owner and neighbor. If you’ve got senior neighbors, help ’em out for pete’s sake.

  • mehoo

    With some neighbors’ help, I shoveled a lane down the whole street in last year’s storm, since the plows took so long to get to us. Get some self-sufficiency, people.

    • TGEoA

      If someone helped you, than how was that being self-sufficient?

      • PikeHoo

        I believe the point is self-reliance (own shovel) v. government assistance (county run snow blower program).

      • mehoo

        We were shoveling the whole street, as in the street, not the sidewalks (we have none). We didn’t wait for the plow. Would you prefer “group-sufficient?”

  • Mark Wigfield

    The way it works is that the snow blower is left with someone in the neighborhood who happens to have extra space in their garage. The neighborhood recruits volunteers to run the blower, and the county helps train people when needed. Barcroft has participated in it for several years and now has two blowers since the neighborhood is split in two more or less by the park. We uset the snowblowers to clear walks for the disabled/elderly, the walks around our community house, and a long stretch of walk that abuts parkland. It’s an interesting partnership between county/civic association volunteers, but it can be hard to recruit enough volunteers, and especially hard on the few volunteers who are available when it snows on a work day. Seems like this year we have more volunteers than ever though.

    • Westover

      While I know there is a sprinkling of folks that have to work no matter what, the snow when a snowblower are needed are the days most folks get the day off, be it government or private sector. Should not have had any trouble last winter finding folks to run the snow blowers. After last winter, I would be surprised if you could not find volunteers this year, when we probably won’t get a single 4 inch snow day.

  • JimPB

    Back to the future: Don’t relie on government; Form a block co-op to buy and maintain a snow blower. A neighbor bought a commercial/heavy duty snow blower for his properties (he’s a builder) just before the great snow, and graciously snow blowed the sidewalks and driveways of several score of us — and then made the blower available to borrow. A Hero. But he won’t be here forever. When he moves, I’ll be gung ho to see if neighbors will come together around a co-op for a snow blower. (It would be great to have a co-op for other yard machines, but most of the neighbors now have a lawn care company mow their yard and do other yard work.

    • mehoo

      “Form a block co-op”

      That’s basically what a civic association is.

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