Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has Show More
A law being vetted by Nassau lawmakers that would require commercial property owners to clear ice- and snow-clogged sidewalks along county roads probably is unnecessary.
That's because Nassau already has the ability to hold commercial -- as well as residential and institutional -- property owners responsible for doing the job.
The county hasn't made much use of its administrative code authority to cite property owners for not keeping sidewalks clear, however.
Nor has Nassau, as its code allows, opted to use county resources to clear clogged sidewalks this winter and bill property owners the cost.
"During snowstorms, the county's focus is to keep roads open for emergency vehicles, hospital services and essential commercial businesses to protect the public health and welfare," County Executive Edward Mangano said last week.
"The county has never, and cannot possibly enforce residential snow removal responsibilities," he said. "Much of the enforcement falls to the towns."
But a spokesman for Hempstead, the most populous town in the nation, said there's no way town workers are going to take on Nassau's job.
"We certainly take care of the responsibilities we have under our jurisdiction and expect other municipalities to handle areas that fall under theirs," town spokesman Michael Deery said.
Nassau's other towns, no surprise, feel the same way.
But what happens when -- as happened this year -- multiple snowfalls, coupled with property owners ignoring or ignorant of Nassau's code, leave sidewalks impassable?
Gerri Insinga, of West Hempstead, knows.
She's watched students having to make their way through the street to get to school. "I've seen them walking two and three abreast and now there's water and they're getting splashed by traffic," she said.
"Something should be done before someone is injured, either by falling in the street or getting hit by a car," she said.
She asked whether property owners were responsible for clearing their sidewalks.
Well, yes, they are.
And since the students are walking along a county-maintained road, it falls with the county to enforce it.
Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), Nassau's presiding officer, has heard similar complaints as well.
Which is why lawmakers are considering a new law that would make the fire marshal responsible for enforcing sidewalk snow clearance for commercial properties along county-maintained roads.
"I don't like having laws unless we can enforce them," said Gonsalves, who was slated to have a meeting with the fire marshal's office last week.
It remains to be seen whether commercial property owners will complain about a proposed law -- which, twice, has been tabled -- that would single them out over residential and other property owners.
Or whether lawmakers decide to ditch the proposal, and ask that the code be enforced.
Mangano noted that the legislature was considering a law for commercial properties. And he said that he saw no reason for Nassau to duplicate what towns were doing for residential.
A county spokesman said that while the public works department had notified residential property owners about cracks in sidewalks, the department has issued no notices about clogged sidewalks.
Insinga, who drives her granddaughter to the local high school, doesn't care who owns what property. And she's been frustrated by the town and county pointing fingers at each other on other issues.
For her, the problem is simple.
"It's deplorable that students can't use the sidewalk because there are mounds of uncleared ice and snow on them," she said. "I'm afraid that somebody's going to get hurt."
So, where's the solution?