LETHBRIDGE: The weekend's winter storm has once more raised the issue of snow removal in Lethbridge.
While the city struggles to keep up with the drifting and blowing snow, residents are experiencing a lag in snow removal service that has some people picking up the slack themselves.
Complaints from residents have city council and staff looking for a better way to deal with the new demand.
Staff report to reveal weaknesses in the system
City staff in charge of snow removal say it's not just this year that they've seen a higher demand for clearing roads. The past three years, including 2010, have included colder, longer winters, with more snow falling - and staying - for longer stretches of time. The trend has meant more demand for hauling snow to dump sites, and more strain on the city's less than $ 2 million snow and ice clearing budget.
"We can't rely as we used to on the Chinook winds coming and it warming up to plus 10 and then after a snowfall it all melts away," says Doug Hawkins, director of infrastructure services for Lethbridge.
Hawkins explains the city's growing population means a greater influx of people from outside the Southern Alberta area, namely eastern Canada, who expect a higher level of snow clearing service. In parts of Ontario for example, where Hawkins worked for several years, regular heavy snowfalls mean most municipalities set aside a substantial budget for road clearing . In those areas, all residential streets are cleared after every snowfall. Snow clearing budgets in those cities often tally up to $ 10 million.
The fix for Lethbridge is apparently within reach for a much lower cost than $ 10 million. A budget increase of approximately $ 1 million - about 30 per cent of the current budget - would be enough to smooth out the most serious issues with the city's snow removal process. As it is right now, the city owns about six snow plows, four sanders and two graders. But on days after heavy snowfall, the city hires at least four more graders and dozens more plows to dig out area roads. These accumulated costs during the past three cold winters have overtipped each year's snow removal budget. In 2010, the budget was over by $ 1 million. Hawkins says his department will continue to run red if improvements aren't made.
"Our current budget, in order to respond to the current need for service, is inadequate," says Hawkins. "We're going to have to increase the budget to better reflect our actual costs."
City council heard a presentation on these issues at city hall today, and voted to ask staff for more information on how the situation can be improved for the 2012 budget deliberations. The city manager says he may even reccommend council up the budget for 2011, as the upcoming winter is looking to be just as severe.
Meanwhile, City reminds public of shoveling regulations
As Lethbridge digs out from the weekend storm, the city has issued reminders on snow removal rules.
Snow should be shovelled or blown onto a person's own property or boulevard, not onto roads. Authorities say some side streets are impassable because home owners aren't following the rules.
Also, some private snow removal contractors working for local businesses are piling snow on the corners of property. Transportation Operations Manager Kevin Viergutz says it's creating a safety hazard.
"It obstructs the vision of drivers, so if you pull up to an intersection and you want to make a turn, you can't see around those piles," says Viergutz. "Those piles shouldn't be higher than the hood of a car, so drivers can see what's coming. Otherwise, there's some liability there. If an intersection has an accident and that's the cause of it, you might be liable."
To help speed plowing, the city has