Sidewalk snow removal in Tallinn to remain homeowners' responsibility this winter

Local residents in Tallinn fulfilling the edict to keep their section of sidewalk passable in the snow.
Local residents in Tallinn fulfilling the edict to keep their section of sidewalk passable in the snow. Source: ERR

While early signals are there of a potential move towards snow and ice clearing on residential streets becoming the responsibility of the city administration, rather than local residents, nothing will change for the upcoming winter.

In Tallinn, though not in most of the remainder of the country, keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice – meaning rendering them safe and passable rather than completely devoid of snow – is the responsibility of residents of buildings along those routes.

This must be done by 7 a.m., a requirement rendered difficult by work and other commitments.

The clearing work, which also includes the removal of hazardous icicles from the adjacent building, is as a result less than uniformly carried out during winter, with stretches of sidewalk kept thoroughly clear alternating with those less well maintained, or even not maintained at all – for instance in the case of an empty building or one whose residents cannot, or will not, carry out the task, even in the face of potential fines.

Vladimir Svet (Center), a Tallinn deputy mayor, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that rationalization my be coming with regard to those private sector firms which are used in clearing sidewalks of snow, for instance adjacent to non-residential buildings.

"Currently, each building orders its own sidewalk maintenance service from a variety of companies that drive across half the city with their truck, consuming plenty of fuel in the process," Svet said.

"We believe that it would be more reasonable to amend the law in a way that would allow the city to make centralized procurements based on settlement, district or city," he went on.

Nõmme District Elder Karmo Kuri (SDE) said that rolling out a similar practice to that which has already been ongoing, albeit just in the one street in that area of the capital, which lies to the South of the city center, could be done almost immediately; "there is no separate legal nuance needed to do that," Kuri said.

Mai tänav, a fairly typical leafy Nõmme residential street, gets cleared of snow by the district authority itself (Nõmme district is an administrative sub-unit of the City of Tallinn).

This is not in time for the arriving winter this year, however; the capital's homeowners be required to continue shoveling and clearing their own sidewalks once the snow and ice comes.

Estimates put the cost of a city-wide snow clearing service, to replace the current system, at €30 million.

Maksim Akulistõi, manager at private sector street maintenance firm Keskkonnahooldus Eest,i also said the use of companies like his would provide a more effective way of working.

Jaan Viljas, a member of the board of EKT Teede, another maintenance firm, based in the Mustamäe district of town, noted that labor would make up a significant component of snow clearing costs.

At the same time, the investment in machinery needed would come despite the fact that it would be left standing for much of the year.

In Nõmme, Mai tänav is the exception, rather than the rule, Karno Kuri noted – though it is a portent of things to come.

"Sooner or later, all cities will have to take on this responsibility on themselves. This is what a city [administration] is there for, to keep the streets and sidewalks clean," he said.

AK reported that currently Tallinn's street maintenance budget stands at €38 million, the bulk of which goes on snow removal – in key public areas for instance. Adding around 1,000km of residential street clearing would almost double that figure, by adding €30 million to the budget.

At the same time, clearing snow from a little over a thousand kilometers of Riga's streets will, AK reported, cost €3.7 million, a far lower sum in a larger city.

During particularly severe winters it is not uncommon to see trucks ferrying piles of snow and dumping them outside the capital.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Merilin Pärli.

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