Downtown Fernie after snowfall. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Snow removal still an issue for mobility challenged in Fernie

Disability advocate sees little improvement in sidewalk clearing; City promises to review policy

People with mobility issues are choosing to stay at home rather than risk injury on the snow-covered streets of Fernie.

Last month, The Free Press reported disability advocate Grace Brulotte sparked an online debate when she took to Facebook to vent her frustration about not being able to access the sidewalk due to snow build up.

The young woman is confined to a wheelchair after being born with a rare neuromuscular disorder called arthrogryposis, as well as the spinal condition scoliosis.

LOOK BACK: Snow removal in Fernie causes issues for disabled

One month later, Brulotte said she is yet to see any improvements.

“I tend to avoid going out when it’s snowed lots now because I have so many problems downtown,” she told The Free Press.

“Not that I believe it’s right. People with mobility challenges shouldn’t have to be confined to their homes because it’s too risky to go outside.

“Access to major areas in Fernie should be available to everyone, regardless of their mobility status.”

Brulotte’s biggest problem is snow built up along the sidewalks, which means she can’t bring her van close enough to lower the wheelchair ramp.

She said it’s unclear who is responsible for removing snow from the sidewalk.

“If it’s the responsibility of the City then they should be clearing them. If it’s the responsibility of business owners then it should be laid out by the City as a responsibility of said owner,” she said.

When Brulotte first raised her concerns in late November, she was contacted by Mayor Ange Qualizza who requested a private meeting with her.

Brulotte said the meeting is yet to eventuate and she has resolved to take the issue to an upcoming council or Committee of the Whole meeting.

“I still believe this needs to be addressed, whether I get my private meeting with the Mayor or not,” she said.

“I just hope changes can be made before someone actually gets hurt from the lack of snow clearance.”

A City spokeswoman confirmed that it is business owners’ responsibility to clear the sidewalks by 9 a.m. It currently relies on citizen complaints to enforce its bylaws.

“We ask that the business owners do their part in helping keep our streets safe and walkable for all by clearing their sidewalks as soon as possible after a snowfall,” said the City spokeswoman.

Council will be reviewing snow removal service levels when further information regarding the sidewalk clearing policy and contracting options for windrow removal has been brought back by staff, as requested at the November 26 meeting.

In an email to The Free Press, Mayor Ange Qualizza said the City is committed to learning from each snow event and improving the services it delivers.

“The change in weather patterns resulting in ice build ups on roads and sidewalks is a concern we have heard from many of our residents, including Ms. Brulotte,” she said.

“Council has planned to review the Sidewalk Clearing Policy and we are thankful for all of the feedback we receive from residents, and want to encourage these conversations.”

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Grace Brulotte posted these photos on Facebook after having difficulty accessing the sidewalk due to the snow pile. Submitted

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