ATHABASCA — It's the great equalizer — regardless of age, gender, income, or anything else, in Northern Alberta for about six months of the year, you will be dealing with the snow in one way or another.
We are all faced with the task and challenge of removing snow in a timely manner because in Athabasca, not doing so can lead to fines of up to $100. Businesses are typically quick to remove snow to keep customers safe and provide access but sometimes homeowners or renters need to pick up the pace.
“Sometimes people just don't really put an emphasis on getting out within the 48 hours to do what they need to do,” said Town of Athabasca community peace officer (CPO) Brian Bandura Nov. 24, just more than a week following the first large snowfall of the year.
Bandura said he does not necessarily drive around after a snowfall checking to see if shovelling has been done, as he has more pressing things on his daily agenda, but he does take notice.
“It's kind of, I would say for lack of a better description, it's kind of a crapshoot,” he said. “Sometimes I’m just doing my regular stuff, some other unrelated things, and I see that 95 per cent of the people have done their stuff, or even more, and then sometimes two days after the fact, after the snowfall, nobody's doing anything.”
Bandura said if the weather is warm people tend to try and wait until the snow melts, but it is a risk and worth Christmas present cash if not removed in a timely manner after a big snowstorm – a light dusting does not count.
“Section 602, Bylaw 11-00, the cost is $100 and if they pay it before the 14-day period they can get 50 per cent off on the fine,” said Bandura. "If you let it sit for 14 days then yes, you are paying the full amount of dollars per occurrence.”
And yes, you can be fined again in the same 14-day period.
“Technically you could, but I try to be nice about it,” he said. “But if there are some repeat offenders, then there is a very good chance that they can be fined multiple times.”
And being out of the province or country does not count and for houses which are rented, the renter is considered responsible, even if they asked someone else to do it while they are away.
“You're the owner of the property, you are responsible for it technically,” said Bandura. "Regardless of who was delegated the responsibility, the owner of the property is ultimately responsible.”
Bandura had one last tip to help keep people safe.
“Throwing salt on the sidewalk surfaces is a good idea as well to prevent ice accumulation because there can be temperature changes and things can get slippery,” he said. “Even though the snow has been removed the sidewalk surface can be slippery, so if you can throw some snow melt on that’ll be perfect.”
In the Village of Boyle, CAO Warren Griffin relies on the Athabasca County CPO to enforce any bylaw complaints but so far, in these early days of winter, it has not been a problem.
“Unless it's super urgent we'll wait till we can get a CPO there so that they handle it properly, but if it actually came down to it then yes, we would,” Griffin said in a Nov. 22 interview.
Griffin said technically the snow removal bylaw for Boyle does not have a timeline like the Town of Athabasca’s does, but the expectation is still for residents to remove it in a timely manner.
“There's no timeline,” he said, reading from the bylaw. “They're responsible for removing it; it shall be done by the homeowner; any portion cannot be placed on the roadway; it must be placed on the property abutting the sidewalk or removed and where it's piled it shall not affect the vision of traffic.”
He did say it should be removed though.
“Within a couple of days, you should or it's going to become a problem,” he said.
As for Athabasca County, CAO Dawn Phillips said while there are no specific bylaws for the hamlets, rural residents can get some assistance with their driveways under the Residential Driveway Snowplowing Program.
“The flags cost $50 each and yes, (ages) 65-plus are free,” said Phillips in a Nov. 26 e-mail.
Flags are purchased at the Athabasca County administration building where a hold-harmless agreement must be signed, then they are placed by the property owner at the end of the driveway when they need it plowed.
“The driveway will be plowed only after the plowing of roadways in the area is complete,” the bylaw states. “Landowners requiring more immediate services are encouraged to contact a private contractor to make alternate arrangements.”
Each flag is a one-time use but if multiple flags are purchased, they do not expire and if no longer required at some point, can be returned for a refund.