WESTLOCK – Changes to the Town of Westlock policy that dictates when and where snowplows roll, are on the table following an in-depth discussion at the Jan. 16 committee of the whole (COW) meeting, with the mayor wanting councillors to take the time and “make sure that it’s right.”
CAO Simone Wiley said operations director Robin Benoit and his team have been working on the changes “for a while” since budget discussions, where administration first noted the proposed changes to Snow Removal Guidelines Policy P-20-2007.
Discussion of the policy comes shortly after the town publicly apologized Jan. 3 for the current state of its snow-covered streets, following a barrage of complaints from residents to the town and via social media. In his presentation, Benoit referenced the recent event and used it as an example and provided details about the street-clearing process.
“The snow didn’t compact like it was supposed to, (at) -14 C the snow should still have compacted and it didn’t, so we’ve been talking a lot about that and we’re trying to figure out why that occurred,” said Benoit. “It was the snow event on the 27th that I think pushed us over the edge at that time.”
Benoit said it took 11 days to complete snow removal, following the event and noted they have five trucks — three from the town, including one that’s a sander, as well as two trucks from contractors. In the last event however, Benoit said they brought in five contractors. “We had a contractor working for us doing Whisselville and we had a contractor pushing lanes. We brought those in because we were down two bodies,” he said.
Benoit also highlighted several proposed changes to the snow removal guidelines policy. The include changing what constitutes a “triggering event” as a single event of loose snowfall greater than 100mm or a total compacted accumulation depth of snow 100mm or greater — a change from 150mm in the current policy.
The town will declare a State of Local Emergency in any singular event with a loose snowfall greater than 250mm, they will complete a full (snow) removal cycle within a 12-day time period and creating a snow removal map that identifies priorities and zones along with a zone rotation for priorities three, four and lanes. The town will hold a debriefing session after a full snow removal cycle event and will remove stockpiles of snow in the centre of roads on the same day or within 24-hours depending on weather conditions.
Benoit said when the town gets a snow event that triggers action, the operations department begin working through priorities, accordingly, starting with emergency routes and the downtown core. “The changes we’re proposing to bring in the new policy is to reflect our current practice and enhance it a little bit,” he said.
At the last budget meeting Benoit said he proposed setting the town up into zones and presented councillors with a draft copy of an eight-zone map detailing snow removal areas and explained how they will work, along with zone rotations. The zone rotation will apply to priorities three, four and lanes only.
“It’s very close to what our emergency services has set up for their zones and their mapping,” said Benoit. “It may take two days to do zone six, it may take a day and a half to do zone five — they’re not based on a days worth of work. We started in zone one, next round zone one is the last zone to get done … we carry it forward from year to year, season to season so eventually zone seven or zone eight gets done first and that’s fair.”
Benoit noted they discussed putting lanes in the policy as well and will continue to clear them accordingly as each situation dictates. “All the lanes are passable — we might get an isolated half dozen that need attention because the wind blew (snow) in and we’ll take care of those,” he said. “We left it where it is, but we’ll continue to do what we’re doing today because it makes sense and it’s efficient for us.”
Informing town residents of debriefing sessions after each snow event is another important change. “How can we be more efficient, what can we do differently, what can we do better — just letting everybody know and making it a policy directive that this is what we’re going to do,” explained Benoit.
Following the presentation, the mayor and council asked several questions including about the State of Local Emergency, parking on the streets and what to do with all the vehicles. They also inquired about using snow removal equipment in extreme temperatures and extreme weather conditions, details of stockpiles at intersections including their height and how long it takes to clear them, hauling snow sequence in relation to the zones and snow removal on collector roads.
“Any time you’re going to declare a State of Local Emergency, that’s what it is, and you better need to use your extraordinary powers that come along with it, otherwise why would you declare a State of Local Emergency,” said Wiley. “In this instance, I think there would definitely be a necessity to utilize some of those — you might need to conscript some equipment, we need to open up the town so you’re going to supply us with a grader because we need it and that’s what your State of Local Emergency allows you to do.”
Benoit noted while there is some room for discretion as -30 C was a ‘fail safe’ mark when dealing with extreme cold.
“In -30 or -35 (like) we had it just recently before Christmas, the breaks get soft and I don’t want a 66,000-pound machine losing control on a residential street,” he said. (The cold) does have an impact on the hydraulics and the air …we’re constantly looking at the condition of the equipment daily, to make sure that (if) we got an event coming, let’s tune things up, let’s make some adjustments,” explained Benoit. “But -30 is a good rule of thumb in today’s weather forecast and that’s really when our equipment starts to get clumsy.”
Mayor Ralph Leriger noted the town’s responsibility in communicating to residents and said that he would like to see something a little more rigorous in the policy about that, adding that it should include referencing the policy and the new zones.
“Communication is the key, and our last (snow) event should have taught us that,” said Leriger. “Once we communicated then the angst did seem to lessen.”
The proposed policy changes, with amendments will be back in front of council at the Feb. 13 regular meeting.