Pile it there . . . and pay the price

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By Megan Woolhouse
Globe Staff / December 29, 2010

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In a city where there is too much snow and no place to put it, Sergeant Steven Tankle enforces the rules.

He fines the shovelers, the snowblower operators, and the private plow drivers who push unwanted snow into a freshly cleaned city street. And if you don’t shovel your sidewalk, prepare to receive a ticket.

Tankle works for the Boston Code Enforcement Police, officers who troll the streets looking for violations of city ordinances. After blizzards, that means they look for illegal snow dumping and unshoveled walkways. Think of them as the snow police: They wear badges, carry handcuffs, and make meter maids seem popular. Run afoul of them and face a fine of up to $200.

This month’s blizzard has brought a flurry of tickets, 173 yesterday alone, compared with 20 issued in all of December 2009. And officers are out today looking for more violators.

“If I find a violator, I’m going to write a ticket,’’ Tankle said Monday, as he patrolled South Boston in his truck. “I guarantee it.’’

The intensified ticketing follows a recent Supreme Judicial Court decision that holds property owners accountable for injuries linked to snow and ice on their land.

Some legal specialists say that means City Hall bears responsibility for injuries that occur on those sidewalks, so the city has a financial and legal incentive to enforce its ordinances and avoid lawsuits. Chief Michael Mackan, a 20-year veteran of the department, said that the large amount of tickets issued for this storm was a result of the heavy snowfall, not a change in enforcement as a result of the decision.

He said inspectors watch for violations and get tips from public works employees about problems. They also respond to residents’ complaints.

In some cases, they rush to catch a snowplow operator in the act. If they arrive too late and find only evidence of a problem — for example, a pile of snow plowed into a street — they photograph it and mail a ticket to the property owner. That fine, if not paid, can be attached to a homeowner’s property taxes.

“It’s a challenging job,’’ said Mackan, adding that there are “so many miles of sidewalk in the city of Boston to cover.’’

Tankle patrolled 4th Street on a recent afternoon, looking for problems. His radio crackled as he slowed his truck to watch the operator of a snowblower from afar. Tankle watched as the man directed the spray from his blower away from the street and nodded approvingly.

Several blocks away, a group of shovelers caught his attention. He parked the truck and watched them struggle as they lifted heavy shovelfuls of compacted snow. Then they heaved their loads onto already tall piles of snow. More good work, Tankle said.

Officer Daniel Donovan, on patrol yesterday, issued a $50 ticket to the owner of a boarded-up triple-decker on Telegraph Hill who had not shoveled the sidewalk along his corner lot. City ordinances require residents to shovel their walkways within six hours after a snowfall and specify in nitty-gritty detail that the path cleared be no less than 42 inches wide.

“There’s a high school right over there,’’ Donovan said. “A lot of people travel through here.’’

Soon enough, the officer pounced again. A young couple was shoveling snow off their Honda, badly. Donovan approached and demanded their license and registration.

The couple, who did not want to be identified, froze in shock. They wanted to know what they had done wrong. They said they had no idea about the law. The woman began crying.

Donovan replied coolly that they should have stacked the snow at the front or back end of the car, not in the street.

“It’s illegal to throw snow in a city street,’’ he said before handing them a $50 ticket. A block away, he ticketed another man for the same offense.

City officials said they have issued pamphlets and brochures alerting residents to stepped-up enforcement. And yesterday, the tickets rolled out.

The Boston Code Enforcement Police were out in full force, all 16 of them. Tankle, an officer for 15 years, said that angry violators have thrown cans of soda at him and that he has occasionally had to call for police backup when a ticketing turned threatening. But he said he has never had to arrest anyone.

Late Monday afternoon, Tankle spotted a fresh mound of snow piled in the middle of Norfolk Street in Dorchester.

He pulled up to the possible perpetrators, three people clearing snow from their cars.

“What are you doing?’’ Tankle asked. “Clean all this up, or you’ll get a $200 ticket.’’

Everyone in the group stared at the pile of snow in the street. Mendes Teixeira, one of the shovelers, said they were not the guilty ones. “It was there before,’’ the 25-year-old said, looking perplexed.

Tankle told the group to move the snow from the street to a snowbank. He said he would come back to make sure they did and took their license plate numbers just in case.

“I try to work with everybody,’’ Tankle said afterward. “And everybody can make a mistake once.’’

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at To see the city’s brochure on shoveling requirements, go to