Officials defend Winnipeg's scorned snow clearing efforts

The City of Winnipeg is on the defensive about treacherous roads after weeks of snow and arctic temperatures.
City of Winnipeg is on the defensive about treacherous roads after weeks of snow and arctic temperatures, while residents in one snow-plowing area (Zone J) say they're still waiting for their streets to be cleared. 1:34

The City of Winnipeg is on the defensive about treacherous roads after weeks of snow and arctic temperatures.

Coun. Justin Swandel, chair of the public works committee, admits there have been problems — such as contractors entirely missing a zone (Zone J in south St. Vital) not once but twice — but he insists the roads are safe.

Drivers just have to slow down, he said.

On Monday, St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes called for the current snow removal contractors to be fired and new ones hired. He said snow clearing has been a major issue among people in his ward.

"They just don't seem to be able to do it in the 12 hours [required after a snowfall]. Maybe they're not putting enough crews on or machines," he said.

"I don't know, I don't really care any more. I just want somebody new in there to get this thing done."

The city’s director of public works, Brad Sacher, said all the snow clearing equipment available is going full out and pulling a contractor for not keeping up isn't possible.

“In this situation, we've got a contractor that has been struggling to keep up with meeting the time frames that are prescribed by the city as part of Know Your Zone,” he said, adding the city is working with the contractor to address the problem.

The combination of heavy snowfalls and prolonged cold in the past month has been "one of the worst in memory" and the city is pushing hard to clear the streets, Sacher said.

Milder temperatures expected to arrive by the weekend should help plows get at the ruts on many streets, he added.

Working in 'brutal conditions'

Swandel agreed that it's not possible to remove a contractor halfway through the season.

Instead of criticizing the snow-clearing crews, Winnipeggers should thank them for doing the best they can, Swandel said.

“We're plowing exactly as we can plow. You know, anybody can make hindsight — sort of quarterbacking, hindsight quarterbacking — but, you know, we have every piece of equipment working, every resource we have at our disposal is working, and it's working in just brutal conditions,” he said.

Winnipeg's snow clearing crews are the best in North America, if not the world, Swandel said.

But some residents in Zone J say they're not impressed with the rutted, icy streets in their neighbourhood.

"They are terrrible, just terrible. I mean, you have to just crawl along to get to where you want to go," said Sharon Johnson.

Said John Lenaghan, "I've never seen them worse."

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