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Metro suburb homeowners want city to shovel all their sidewalks in winter

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Yes, we know it's still summer and the last thing you want to think about is winter, but it's firmly been on the minds of residents in St. Louis Park this week.

St. Louis Park plows snow from 48 miles of sidewalks during winter – leaving 60 miles of sidewalks for residents to clear themselves.

But some residents say this is unfair, and made their feelings known during a meeting at St. Louis Park City Hall on Monday, bringing snow shovels with them to make their point.

The Star Tribune reports those not living along major routes and near schools, parks and public spaces (which is where the city plows sidewalks) are concerned about the health implications in a city with an aging population.

"It seems to us that this is unfair and inequitable, particularly for the elderly, the handicapped and those who are winter travelers," 71-year-old Dale Anderson said at the meeting, according to the paper.

Anderson had previously written a letter to the Sun Sailor decrying the city's policy, saying: "The budget is really balanced on the backs of those residents who provide those services (including seniors, temporary or permanently disabled people, winter travelers, and others) but not balanced on the backs of all residents.

"It becomes an unfair cost – some would say an unbalanced 'tax' suffered by some residents but not by others."

How much would it cost?

A series of questions was submitted to the council before the meeting, which asked for figures on how much it would cost to plow the remaining 60 miles of sidewalk – and the figures provided the main reason why the city is not keen on expanding its plowing program.

First off, buying the five new plowing machines that would be required to more than double the city's program would cost $150,000 each, an up-front cost of $750,000, according to meeting minutes.

And the extra labor would also be required, and if seasonal staff were hired to do the work it would add a further $62,500 to the annual budget – plus healthcare costs for the workers.

Hiring a private contractor would cost an estimated $1.2 million a year to do the work, and the final alternative, of adding five full-time public service workers, would cost the city an extra $400,000 a year.

So, it looks as though the city will continue to require some of its residents to shovel their sidewalks. The city council decided not to pursue 100 percent shoveling coverage – instead, they suggest pursuing partnering with volunteer groups like the Boy Scouts to shovel sidewalks, the Star Tribune reported.

This is, of course, the norm in Minneapolis and St. Paul, where all homeowners are responsible for clearing their sidewalks.

The health implications

Concerns over the impact of snow shoveling in an aging population are valid – given how dangerous shoveling during the winter months can be.

It's been well-documented by cardiologists that shoveling snow places a burden on the heart, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. In those who don't exercise or who have heart disease, it can lead to heart attacks, the Wall Street Journal reports, as well as muscular injuries to the back.

According to a 17-year study published in 2011, and reported by the Huffington Post, there are 11,500 visits to U.S. emergency rooms every year due to snow shoveling injuries, of which heart-related injuries made up about 7 percent of the visits.

However, of the 1,647 snow shoveling deaths recorded during the 17-year period, all of them were heart-related, with men over 55 years old most at risk.

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