Road clearing strategies put to the test with snowfall warnings for northern B.C.
Leaders try to manage expectations — and budgets — as crews dig out roads
The road-clearing strategies of communities across northern B.C. are being put to the test as heavy snow hits the region, with more weather warnings in place for the weekend.
"We've got all staff on-board, we're telling them to be ready," said Blake McIntosh, who manages the City of Prince George's fleet of plows and clearing equipment.
The city has had a renewed focus on communication and operations during heavy snowfalls ever since the so-called "Snowmaggedon" event of 2013-2014.
That year, some residential roads went for weeks without being cleared, prompting a flood of complaints to city hall.
An internal review discovered several problems, including communication errors between management and staff leading to some roads being cleared multiple times while others were ignored, poor management of vacation time resulting in a staff shortage and a failure to procure outside contractors to help with the clearing.
Since then, the city has added approximately $2 million to its snow clearing budget, for a total of $7 million annually (in Vancouver, the snow clearing budget was just increased to $1.62 million). It's also purchased additional clearing equipment and introduced winter parking rules in an effort to stop vehicles from blocking plows.
"Parked cars cause a mess," McIntosh said.
Meanwhile in northeast B.C., the City of Dawson Creek will be spending between $60,000 and $70,000 this weekend to hire private contractors to help clear out the accumulation of snow that's hit the region.
"Over the last week, we've probably been getting four to five to 10 centimetres [a day]," said Mayor Dale Bumstead. "It's starting to build up and it's time we need to get it all cleaned up."
Bumstead said he understands people get upset when roads aren't cleared as fast as they'd like, but it's important to save the budget for when there is a real need.
"Trying to be responsible with tax dollars," he told his followers on Facebook.
In northwest B.C., Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth said the biggest challenge is simply having patience as crews work their way through clearing priority routes before getting to residential side streets.
"Our snow clearing is second to none," he said.
"You look at a lot of other communities, if they get a snowfall anywhere close to this, they're shut down for days."
Earlier this week, over 50 centimetres of snow fell in the region in 48 hours, causing bus delays and the closure of Northwest Community College's campus Tuesday.
Environment Canada is forecasting yet another 25-30 centimetres of snow for the inland regions of the North Coast by Friday night. Warnings are also in place throughout the Peace River and Pine Pass regions in northeast B.C., with snowfall of up to 25 centimeters expected by midnight.
With files from Audrey McKinnon and George Baker