With a few snow events on the calendar, the City of Fernie has been able to see how its snow pilot program pans out, with kinks being ironed out as winter carries on.
The program, which was initiated last year, was extended for the 2020-21 winter season due to a lack of data on what was and wasn’t working when it came to clearing city streets of snow.
“The old policy hadn’t been reviewed in 20 years and had become a complaint-based service, which led to inconsistent and unsustainable service levels that became absolutely unmanageable and was drawing resources from the entire organization,” said City of Fernie Mayor, Ange Qualizza.
“For years, the City had funded this unsustainable snow clearing program by under-investing in maintaining facilities, infrastructure and staffing operations.”
Qualizza said that with two major snow events (so far), “community feedback has informed us the priority concerns are windrows, accessibility and mobility.
“The community will see us evaluating and piloting curb-to-curb plowing following the priority route framework, trying to establish a good response to maintain key transportation corridors and provide a better initial response to a snow event keeping the streets wide. This should reduce the number of times plows come by creating windrows.”
She said that so far, the city had been seeing success in some areas with improved timing on opening up main driving routes, emergency routes, access to critical infrastructure and also pedestrian access along main corridors
“Right now, to minimize the impact to our community of the cost of snow removal the pilot is designed to reallocate resources but use the same staffing levels based on the priorities of the community that were shared with us by residents and businesses through our engagement process,” she said.
The city has been facing challenges with the program, including two rain-on-snow events (most recently over the weekend) which have hampered efforts by forcing snow-clearing crews to clear drainage instead.
“The timing of snow events hasn’t helped, with weekend shifts being voluntary overtime for staff, impacting the number of people we can have out clearing snow during Saturdays, Sundays, and on holidays.
“I know that people across the community are feeling a lot of stress because of the pandemic, however, there have been a few occasions where this stress has been taken out on staff by blocking equipment and harassing employees while they try to do their job. I want to make it perfectly clear that this behaviour is completely unacceptable,” said Qualizza.
Fernie’s Chief Administrative Officer, Michael Boronowski said that the changes in services had lead to some challenges for residents.
“We have stopped centre-plowing and hauling away snow in some areas, so some residents and businesses are struggling with coordinating their snow removal to line up with timing for plowing.
“Staff have been working hard to get us to a place where we have a tested, proven and sustainable model for clearing snow. I’m proud of our operators and our Manager of Operations for their work so far on this process and appreciate the community members who have taken the time to share their feedback on the pilot with us,” he said.
Qualizza said that given staffing levels were an issue, the city would be considering additional funding for snow clearing as part of the annual budgeting process.
The best place to give feedback to the City of Fernie is via their ongoing survey at letstalk.fernie.ca.
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