The topic of snow removal from Slave Lake streets got its annual (at least) examination by town council last week. This followed a week or so of general crankiness on the part of residents, volubly expressed on social media.
Whether, or how much, the municipality should be paying attention to such things (instead of simply focusing on the job) is a good question. But judging by town operations boss Calvin Couturier’s report to council on Jan. 10, he’s well aware of what people had been saying.
“I’ll rip off the band-aid right off the bat, he said,” starting his report. “We’re behind.”
Behind as in behind schedule on the plowing of streets.
On the other hand, Couturier said, given the circumstances, his crew has been working hard and long on getting the job done. They’ve been doing it with three (of five) brand new operators just learning the job, and various hold-ups due to equipment failures. That, plus the awareness that all sorts of people are upset about the service they’re getting.
“It’s very intimidating,” he said. “Very stressful for those guys.”
Operating equipment on roads in town is not at all the same sort of challenge as in other settings, Couturier reminded council.
“I was a really good operator out in the patch,” he said. “And I came to town. Wow! What a difference.”
In other words, it’s not as easy as many people seem to think.
Other things slowing down the work in recent weeks have been four people off with COVID over the holidays, the director explained, plus distractions such as some guy (a member of the public) running amok and driving over 15 signs, all of which had to be replaced, manhole covers that keep getting displaced by grader blades and so on.
“It took two guys a whole day,” to fix the signs, Couturier said.
Then there was a major water line break in the middle of things.
“We’re trying to do the best job with what we’ve got,” he said.
Mayor Tyler Warman made it plain he thinks the operators shouldn’t be the ones taking the heat from the public. Town senior administration and council should bear that burden, he said. Further on that, Warman said councillors need to know exactly what’s going on and why, so when they get calls they can provide useful information.
“If we’re not telling a story, people will make up their own,” he said. “People are more forgiving when they know what’s going on.”
One thing that’s been going on is one of the graders’ gates has been damaged. This means where that grader operates, the snow windrow goes across every driveway. So a loader has been following that grader, and clearing driveways. It hasn’t been able to keep up, council heard.
Under normal circumstances, the total clearage of streets following a significant snowfall takes seven to 10 days – if it doesn’t snow again in that period. The practice for many years now has been to rotate through the four quadrants so all get their turn being first and so on. That works well, Couturier said, except where garbage pick-up days interfere.
Making things easier should be a set of new snow removal signs, Couturier said. They’ve been ordered. He told council that signs generally do work, although there will always be a vehicle or two that don’t get removed. The town could have them towed, but tends not to do that, he said.
The new signs will allow for more specific information about when snow is to be removed from streets. The town will also continue to inform residents through electronic means.
“Voyent (Alert) should be the mechanism,” said town manager Jeff Simpson.
Asked about how sanding works, Couturier said the truck is out every day, usually hitting problem spots twice in a day. When we’re fully staffed, he said, “it goes all day.”
How effective the sand and salt are depends a lot on the conditions.
“It’s a crap shoot every day,” he said.
Councillor Hughes noted the very bumpy condition (caused by packed snow) at the 3rd St. crossing. Can the town do anything about that?
We can, said Couturier, but we’re not allowed to. It’s CN’s business, and they don’t want municipalities doing anything on their property. We can clear to within five metres of the tracks, he said.
There used to be a (CN) guy the town could call, he added, but now it has to be done by email.
Councillor Adams: “Can citizens complain to CN?”
They can and have, said Simpson.
Councillor Brice Ferguson said every year he’s been on council (six), council has the same sort of conversation. Should we be talking about changes to service levels? If so, let’s have a report and get into it.
“If we want a higher level of service, we have to fund accordingly,” he said.
Granted, said Warman, but “I’m not looking to drastically improve service levels.”