Not just snow keeping St. John's crews busy, manager says

Seemingly endless snow this winter has strained snowclearing operations in St. John's, but the weather itself isn't the only challenge for crews to keep the streets clear.

Growing city, fewer qualified workers presents challenges for snowclearing: Paul Mackey

Paul Mackey from the City of St. John's answers questions about snowclearing and its costs 9:34

Seemingly endless snow this winter has strained snowclearing operations in St. John's, but the weather itself isn't the only challenge for crews to keep the streets clear.

The city has been facing a lot of criticism from people this winter who think they haven't done enough to deal with snow on the ground.

But Paul Mackey, deputy city manager for public works, said there's many things that go on behind the scenes that make snow clearing more expensive and difficult.

In 1996, St. John's spent more than $7-million on snowclearing, and that number jumped to more than $15-million in 2012.

The city expanded in that time, adding close to 300 kilometres of new streets. But the bottom line is the cost of snow clearing per kilometre continues to increase.

Inflation affecting costs

"With inflation and normal increases, you would expect those costs to probably double, even if you kept the operation at the same level, and of course that hasn't been the case," Mackey said.

An exceptionally snowy winter, along with rising costs for resources, have put the pressure on the City of St. John's for snowclearing this year. (CBC)

He said that the city is doing more than ever, as well, including salting and plowing some sidewalks and using software programs to make plowing routes more efficient.

But Mackey said the unique problem in the city is finding experience and qualified people to operate the equipment.

He said there are more opportunities in this province for qualified operators to find other work on projects like Long Harbour and Bull Arm, so it's detracting from the pool of candidates the city can pull from.

"Experience is a big issue because the efficiency, the amount of damage to equipment and private property, that sort of thing. Those are all issues we have to deal with."

Mackey said just like any other job, someone with less experience often can't do the same quality of work for the job.

"That's an ongoing thing for us. We're fortunate enough that we've managed to keep all of our positions filled, but there's a greater turnover, and finding experienced people is tougher," he said.

"We're finding now that we have to sometimes hire people with lesser qualifications and training and experience and do a lot of that in-house."

Mackey said the city will continue to change the way it does its snowclearing, to make it as efficient as possible, but the challenges continue to grow along with St. John's.

(CBC)

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