How Montreal contract workers laying sod in the snow created a mini-scandal

An innocent photo taken by a Radio-Canada cameraman during Montreal's first snowfall ended up dominating the news cycle at city hall Monday, although, in the end, it doesn't look like the landscaping contractors were in the wrong.

Much outrage after a photo appears online, but the sod laying was less scandalous than believed

The City of Montreal took a lot of heat on the day of its first significant snowfall, after contract workers laid sod on the median along René-Lévesque Boulevard East. (Radio-Canada)

An innocent photograph taken by a Radio-Canada cameraman during Montreal's first snowfall ended up dominating the news cycle at Montreal City Hall on Monday — although, in the end, it seems the landscaping contractors who were laying sod in the snow didn't do anything wrong.

The photo of the workers was posted online, leading Montreal's Opposition to accuse City of Montreal administrators of being poorly organized, the borough to revoke payment to the contractor, and the mayor to call the situation unacceptable.

Despite the outrage, it turns out laying sod in the wet snow of November is probably just fine.

Let's go through #sodgate in chronological order.

1. A cameraman takes a picture

A CBC/Radio-Canada camera operator snapped a picture on René-Lévesque Boulevard East, near Montreal's Maison Radio-Canada.

A colleague posted it online, where the landscape contractors were immediately mocked.

"City of Montreal workers used the first snowfall to spread sod," wrote Radio-Canada reporter Thomas Gerbet. "Bravo."

"What madness is this?" asked one Twitter user, using dollar signs to reinforce his point.

Some found the image particularly difficult to swallow because much of the city was gridlocked early Monday. The Metro was down, the Turcot interchange was closed, and the sidewalks were difficult to navigate after the snowfall.

This was the scene at Vendôme Metro on the STM's Orange line Monday morning, with the line down. (Sandrine Campeau-Simeone/Submitted)

2. Montreal's official opposition responds

Stone-faced Projet Montréal spokesman Craig Sauvé demanded the contract workers be penalized if the company was late in laying down the sod.

"They should be fined and will be fined, and that should be noted for future contracts as well," said Sauvé.

​Projet Montréal said the sod-laying project was poorly managed.

City councillors Craig Sauvé (right) and Peter McQueen (left) respond to reporters at City Hall on Monday. (CBC)

3. The city responds, ends work, won't pay contractor

In a written statement, the Borough of Ville-Marie said it didn't authorize the laying of sod today, and that the sod was part of a contract for road rehabilitation and sidewalk reconstruction before next summer's Formula E races.

The borough said it intervened in the laying of the sod and also told the business that it would not be paid for its work today.

The mayor responded on Twitter, saying the sod-laying was "unacceptable."

A spokesperson for the borough clarified that the work wasn't stopped because of the weather, but rather because the contractor was supposed to notify the borough in advance before doing the work, and in this case, it didn't do so. The spokesperson confirmed work will re-commence in 2017.

4. Turns out, it's probably fine to lay sod in November

It's true that it's better to lay sod earlier in the fall, or even in late summer, but sod can be laid until it's regularly frosty outside. Cool temperatures and moisture help the sod root quickly.

Pierre Gingras, a journalist who specializes in horticulture, told Radio-Canada's program 15-18 that Monday might actually have been a good day for planting sod.

"You have very wet soil," he said. "The grass is dormant, so there's no problem."

According to Gingras, you can even plant bulbs and trees in the winter — until the ground's frozen too solid to dig a hole in the soil, that is.

Workers laid sod in the snow. Madness ensued.

5 years ago
After a cameraman spotted contract workers laying sod along René-Lévesque Boulevard, it became a hot issue at city hall. 1:04


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