City snow removal preparedness comes under scrutiny in wake of ‘snowmaggedon’
How the city handled ‘snowmaggedon’ left some questions in the community, says one city councillor.
Keith Page said the city has had record heat, near record cold followed by record snow in one day, but how it handled the almost 80 centimetres that fell just after New Year’s Day has been criticized by Nelsonites.
During the Jan. 11 city council regular meeting he noted that “one of those things that we hear a lot of from the community is how we positioned ourselves … going forward to have the labour force on hand to get out a little bit quicker as these things are happening.”
Page said in the ‘snowmaggedon’ scenario the city had multiple holidays falling on weekends, multiple statutory holiday commitments following the weekends, but also had a very regimented labour table for the allocation of work hours.
“Is that table appropriate for the swings in the weather that we have been seeing, especially this year?” he asked.
“Are we budgeting enough of that labour force. Do the winter shifts account for what might happen if this stuff falls on holidays in the future? Can we get those commitments in place as we go into those seasons in the future? Do we need to revisit that or do we really feel this is a perfect storm and we won’t see that again for a long time?”
City chief financial officer Colin McClure said staffing on the day in question was normal.
“But we don’t plan for that (major event) we plan for what is kind of our average expectation,” he said.
In fact, Environment Canada predicted 10-15 cm. that night so city crews were lined up for a 10-15 cm snowfall, McClure noted, but instead the city received 70-80 cm. on a statutory holiday.
“There’s really very little (we) can do to prepare for that,” he said.
City staff either phoned in to work on the snow day or were called in and worked 12 to 14 hours on that Monday.
“I know a lot of people said, ‘I couldn’t get down my street,’ but if those people, those staff, had not stepped up to the plate I cannot have imagined what Monday would have looked like, or rolling into Tuesday or Wednesday or onwards,” said McClure.
He felt the snowfall on Jan. 4 was a “complete anomaly.
“I feel confident we have a really good handle on what a regular to heavy snow year is … so I’m very comfortable as to where we are at,” McClure said.
City Public Works director Colin Innes concurred.
“I think that when you take a look at the shifting in the control in the (city’s) Snow and Ice Policy and how that is laid out I think we have a very effective plan,” he said.
“I think the way (staff) are allocated is an effective way and it would handle the majority of snow and ice events that we have, so I think it’s effective,” Innes continued. “I think that we’ve had a very large event that has occurred here, but at the same time we were able to scramble and get extra staff to come out and work additional hours.”
But having a “reserve” of staff and equipment would not be an effective use of resources, he pointed out.
Coun . Jesse Woodward said 2021 should be teaching the city a lesson about extremes, considering all of the unusual weather events it has experienced.
He wondered if the city should spend some time to plan for the major storms and have the pieces in position for the city to better weather the extreme weather.
City manager Kevin Cormack said the work of the city’s emergency operations centre was to identify and plan for those risks.
“It’s about being resilient, ‘Do you have a flexible workforce that can respond to different events, whether it’s a wildfire, whether it’s a snow event, a storm event?’” he said.
“I think each of these events we’ve had, helps our preparedness of what went well, what didn’t and what was that right balance.”
Climate change is going to be inconvenient, said Coun. Rik Logtenberg, as illustrated by the strength of the snow storm.
“We can’t expect our staff to do everything. Our staff has done a remarkable job,” he said.
“The flex and the resilience in the system that we create together as a community is so much dependent on our neighbourhoods and good neighbour behaviour, and the residents either step in and do their part or chill out a bit and find a way to adapt to the circumstances while our staff rally and find a way to respond.”
Mayor John Dooley said the availability of the contractors the city used to help clear the snow avoided a costly situation for the city.
“When we do run into these situations where we can call on a number of people in our community to back us up that allows us to, I believe, have the right amount of equipment and people in place to manage a normal season and maybe a little beyond that,” he said.
“But we are not carrying millions of dollars’ worth of equipment sitting rusting in the yard for eight or 10 years waiting for the snow to fall.”