PENTICTON - How much would it take for the City of Penticton to make sure residential streets were plowed within hours, rather than days, of a heavy snowfall event?
The short answer is money - potentially lots more money - but that’s not the whole answer. There are a lot of variables that go into the equation, says Penticton Public Works Manager Len Robson, who notes the city most often has to contend with one-, two- or three-inch snowfalls, not the continuous, heavy snowfall events so far this winter.
A regular eight-hour day shift of snow removal in Penticton costs close to $15,000, while a 12-hour weekend shift could run over $35,000 Robson says.
Working round the clock is often self-defeating, as road crews find they work far more efficiently when motorists are off the road, such as in the early morning hours.
“We try to manage budgets and expectations, but it’s a tricky balance,” Robson says.
“If citizens have an expectation of more, the city could try contracting out, but that’s challenging to do here, because the contractor doesn’t have a constant opportunity to make money. If a retainer is necessary to have a contractor in place, it could cost a lot of money to be all geared up only to have the equipment sitting around doing nothing,” he says, adding Penticton is no different in its snow removal problems than any other city in the Okanagan.
In terms of equipment and budgets, a comparison with a similar sized city to Penticton in Ontario's snow belt might be useful. The City of Orillia, Ontario, has a population of 30,586, compared to Penticton’s 34,000. Situated on the north shore of Lake Simcoe, the tourist-oriented community often deals with heavy, lake effect snows off Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.
Kyle Mitchell of the City of Orillia says the city’s snow removal budget is $1.43 million annually, compared to Penticton’s annual $359,300 snow removal budget.
At $1.43 million Orillia’s snow removal budget is slightly less than Penticton’s entire total annual roads budget of $1.6 million.
The City of Orillia looks after 365 kilometres of roads, utilizing a fleet of seven plows, four sanders, six sidewalk machines, two graders, two loader plows and one tractor blower.
That compares to Penticton’s 230 kilometres of roads, which are cleared of snow using the city’s inventory of three tandem axle trucks with belly blades and sanders, two single axle trucks with belly blades and sanders, three one ton trucks, parking lot trucks with sanders and front end blades, one loader, a grader, an ATV, three mowers converted for snow removal and a brigade of snow shovellers bolstered from time to time when a contractor is called in.
According to Mitchell, the City of Orillia doesn’t base its budget on the number of snow events, but on average the city receives 272 cm of snow.
That compares with Penticton’s annual average snowfall of 58.7 cm.
Penticton's budget is based on an average of 15 snow events each year.
Orillia’s winter control policy dictates a road be plowed to an acceptable condition for its road class between six and 24 hours after the end of a snowfall event.
The City of Penticton’s policy allows up to 48 hours following the end of a snow event for a plow to make its way down a residential street, with main routes to be plowed within 12 hours.
In terms of last week’s snowfall, Robson says the city continues its efforts to clean things up and make things better.
“We’re out there doing bus stops, now and have been for a day or two, in the downtown core trying to clean that up and widen up the roads,” he said, adding the city has to be cautious about widening roads only to infill driveways and cause further problems.
"We’re doing the best we can with the budget and the materials and equipment we have. I think it’s pretty reasonable out there - it’s not spring. I realize it’s inconvenient, I’m not going to kid anybody, but you can get around,” Robson says.
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