Kevin Woster

Kevin Woster

There isn’t much good to say about that last blast of winter and its 70-mph gusts. But Matt Owczarek offers a bit of the bright side, from a city code-enforcement standpoint, at least.

“I feel like we got kind of lucky with that blizzard, just because of the wind,” Owczarek said. “It kind of kept a lot of the snow off the sidewalks.”

True, but a howling wind can be a capricious distributor. It blew part of my backyard clear but also sculpted 6-foot-tall drifts that swallowed spirea bushes and turned Rosie’s backyard dog kennel into an artistically shaped igloo, without a door.

The gale swept some sidewalk stretches clean. It also huffed and puffed up some drifts that lay for days like massive frozen burritos, resisting the thaw in shady areas of my West Boulevard dog-walking routes.

I like to walk, so I’m sensitive about unshoveled sidewalks. And while I try not to judge, it seems like sometimes people with substantial resources can’t manage to relocate a little snow within a day or two of the time it touches the concrete.

Of course, many prefer to wait for a simpler solution. And, oh, how that March sun elevates the spirit as it melts away many of the city code enforcement challenges.

The sun doesn’t help with city ordinances against feeding deer, however, which was the subject of my initial inquiry to Owczarek, the supervisor of the city’s Department of Code Enforcement.

Deer feeding is at best unwise, particularly since chronic wasting disease has been detected in Rapid City’s herd. Feeding concentrates deer. Concentrating deer makes the spread of disease more likely, which is especially worrisome with CWD in town.

We have ordinances against feeding deer. They are complaint based and rarely enforced. So the feeding continues, as does the disease threat. It’s a subject I intend to discuss more in detail in a future column, hopefully after I talk to someone who feeds deer and defends the practice. Come on, you’re out there. I know you are!

But I’m easily distracted, so pretty soon Owczarek and I were talking less about deer and more about snow removal, an area where city ordinances are a bit easier to enforce.

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“With snow, our ordinance states that public sidewalks must be clear at all times,” Owczarek said. “So there’s no real notice given. What we do is hang a door hanger that gives them 24 hours to get the sidewalk cleared.”

Most people do. If they don’t, the city hires a contractor to clear the sidewalk, the contractor bills the city and the city bills the property owner. Fail to pay that bill and it shows up as a property tax assessment.

Of course, the sun may intervene first, helping all concerned.

“Honestly, that’s normally the case,” Owczarek said.

“Normally” in our weather patterns can be a hopeful delusion, however. And this winter snow and bitter cold came and stayed, as did the challenges on city sidewalks. All of which increased the pace for city code enforcers and added a little angst to contacts with citizens.

“Yeah, it comes with the job,” Owczarek said. “You’re telling people to do or don’t do something with their own property. So they’re liable to get a little agitated.”

The good news is, spring is finally here. Soon the flowers will be blooming and the grass will be growing. Which can be its own code-enforcement issue, of course.

“Our ordinance on grass is 8 inches or lower,” Owczarek says. “Any higher, and it’s out of compliance.”

And the sun won’t help you at all with that.

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Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing kevinwoster@rushmore.com.

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