Free sand

March 30, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

In the wake of the Valentine’s Day ice storm, City Councilor John Tobin is proposing that the city provide free salt and sand to residents to help them make their sidewalks safe.

Tobin said he was among the residents struggling to find ice-melt after the storm, when most stores in Boston ran out.

“These are people who are obviously trying to abide by the law,” Tobin said, referring to the city ordinance that requires property owners to remove snow and ice completely from all sidewalks around their property. “The city’s the first one to pounce on you if your sidewalk isn’t shoveled.”

Several Massachusetts towns already provide free sand to residents, including Brookline, which reportedly has communal sand barrels.

Barnstable, a town on Cape Cod, maintains a 10-ton pile of sand in its Highway Department lot that residents can dip into at any time for up to three 5-pound buckets. The cost of the sand, a town employee told the Gazette, is about $100 a year.

But Barnstable has about one-twelfth the population of Boston and can offer another major perk: “Nobody has to [shovel] their own sidewalk,” the employee said. The town does it. The free sand is mostly popular for people with steep driveways, the employee said.

Tobin is calling for a hearing to explore the idea and gauge demand for it. But he does have a loose idea of how the program might work in Boston.

Residents could visit a Public Works Department (PWD) lot once or twice a year and get a 5-pound bucket of sand or salt. Only private individuals, not contractors or other professionals, could get the free materials. “I’m not trying to hurt hardware stores,” Tobin said.

Tobin noted some precedents for the idea, including the hazardous waste drop-off days at local PWD yards and the city program that removes graffiti from private property.

He said cost would be a major question, but said it probably would be minor, especially in comparison to pedestrian safety. “What’s the cost of someone breaking a leg?” he said.

“It’s something I’d love to see implemented for next year,” Tobin said, optimistically assuming Boston won’t have one of its not-totally-unexpected April snowstorms this season.

Tobin intended to submit the proposal to the City Council this week. A hearing would be scheduled sometime after that.