By Ezra Black
MLA Bill Bennett is calling out Mainroad East Kootenay for failing in its contractual obligation to keep area roads free of ice.
“Mainroad really dropped the ball last week and I personally apologize for how bad some of the roads were,” said Bennett in a statement. “There is no excuse for this lack of performance by the contractor and I want my constituents to know that the Ministry of Transportation has laid the law down.”
In April, the province awarded Mainroad a seven-year highway maintenance contract for the East Kootenay region worth $16.7 million annually.
According to a statement published by The Free Press, numerous companies applied for the provincially tendered contract, including two companies from outside Canada.
As part of the contract, Mainroad was required to increase the use of anti-icing liquids by 250 per cent but Bennett said area highways have been full of ice since winter hit.
“The contractor apparently failed to have enough de-icing chemical on hand and that was the root of much of the problems but there were other examples of poor performance, such as not clearing snow quickly enough,” said Bennett.
The Ministry of Transportation has legal leverage over Mainroad, said Bennett. The maintenance company could be penalized if it does not do a better job.
“My office is a good barometer of how the roads are maintained in the winter,” said Bennett. “In this case, there were dozens of complaints and some people [were] very angry. It is my job to react constructively to those complaints and that is what I am doing.”
Mainroad acknowledged that they are dealing with challenging winter weather in the East Kootenay but said they are fully prepared to keep the roads clear. In a statement, the company said over 75 employees are plowing and sanding East Kootenay roads around the clock.
“Mainroad takes all concerns raised by the public very seriously and we are currently investigating complaints,” said Al Sander, general manager, in a statement. “Our first priority is always to respond to the situation at hand – getting the roads cleared as quickly as possible and doing the work as per our contract obligations.”
Mainroad said the weather forecast is calling for temperatures to remain well below -9 C over the next week, which will prevent crews from conducting liquid de-icing operations. However, ice blading and sanding will continue until temperatures come up enough for de-icing to begin.
In its statement, Mainroad noted that during extreme cold weather, bare and black highways are not the provincial standard.
Tamara Cartwright, spokesperson for the group Keeping Mainroad Accountable, said the company should not have been awarded the contract.
“We battle, we protest, we petition and they got the contract again,” she said. “We live here, we know it’s the mountains, we know we have to slow down. But it’s worse this year than last year. There’s an inch of ice on the highway.”
She said her groups main concerns are a lack of staffing and training for Mainroad operators.
“They’ve got the contract and they’ve cut back,” she said.