Snow removal policy challenging for town staff

The first heavy snowfall of the season brought challenges to many municipalities and Ponoka was no different from the rest.

The town grader was busy last week clearing ice and snow off of town roads. Here an operator directs the machine up Chicken Hill Nov. 14.

The first heavy snowfall of the season brought challenges to many municipalities and Ponoka was no different from the rest.

A large heavy, wet snowfall Nov. 2nd and 3rd caught town employees by surprise as it did not take long to freeze. Crews were out Nov. 3 with a plow truck and grader to clear the downtown area and then the airport, said CAO Brad Watson during a council meeting Nov. 12.

Since then town councillors have received complaints over very little snow clearing. Mayor Rick Bonnett brought his concerns up during the meeting.

“Comments have been coming to us pretty heavily,” he said.

He asked Dave McPhee, the new director of operations and property services for clarification on the town’s plans. Keeping up with the service levels in the snow removal policy is a challenge, said McPhee. “It’s left us anywhere from two to six inch, in some areas 12 inch hard…The grader is struggling to cut that.”

He estimated 20 to 25 days of recovery time to clear up the ice. McPhee said he was considering hiring a contractor to help clear the roads. The issue became contentious enough that McPhee had to deal with an irate resident at the town shop.

“He tore a verbal abusive strip off me,” he explained.

The man became so angry that McPhee had to ask him to leave the shop. “It’s a learning curve with me and this service level.”

Coun. Loanna Gulka asked if the Town of Ponoka is short staffed with regard to this issue.

“We have more snow and ice fighting equipment than we do manpower,” answered McPhee.

He suggested if the snowfall was a regular Alberta storm rather than what came, staff may have been able to deal with the issue a little faster. A service level review may occur after he has completed one cycle to see whether keeping up with the snow removal policy is realistic.

“What if we’d got 14 inches on top of this stuff? Then we would’ve definitely hired outside resources to help,” added McPhee.

Coun. Carla Prediger asked Watson whether the town has a list of contractors in the event of heavy snowfall. “This isn’t the first time Ponoka, Alberta has had a dump.”

“To me it seems like that would meet our criteria based on that bylaw,” she added.

There is a list of truckers who will come and help, replied Watson but those same truckers are in demand whenever it snows. “One of the problems when we run into a snow like this, they are contracted out. And so they’re saying, ‘You bet but we’re going to our bread and butter before we come and help others.’”

He and McPhee have to also assess different issues with staffing levels such as vacation time, sick time and training days. Bonnett asked if there is some way to let councillors know where staff are working so residents can be informed as well. McPhee said they are looking at how to get information out. “It’s a matter of where you want to post it. Do we put it on the website? Do we Twitter it?”