The heavy snowstorm that swept through the Okanagan around New Years Eve spelled a lot of shovelling for residents and a lot of headaches for snow removal crews.
As of Tuesday morning, Jan. 7, some roads in the region still hadn’t seen a snow plow since the first big dump a week earlier. According to AIM Roads contract manager Greg Ehman, several aggravating factors conspired to make the perfect storm.
“The first challenge that happened was that we ended up with 23,000 people without power, so we implemented our emergency protocols to go assist BC Hydro,” Ehman said.
“Our crews were out with BC Hydro working to plow the roads open to get to those areas where the trees were down.”
An emergency protocol of any significant length leads to a number of subsequent challenges, Ehman said. One problem is that when plow operators are called off their route, it leaves roads partially cleared.
“The next operator then thinks that it’s plowed all the way,” Ehman said.
Plow operators work in a block system, plowing the same section of roads each time they go out. When they’re suddenly called to different areas to clear fallen trees and the like, the system is thrown off-kilter.
“It really messed with our systematic process of being able to plow in a normal fashion, and as a result of that, we missed roads completely.”
When the road-clearing schedule is interrupted, Ehman said, it typically means plows must start the process over again.
“We needed to completely regroup and start basically from scratch, driving up and down every road trying to find out what happened,” said Ehman.
“And then despite that — and there’s no excuse on this: we still managed to miss a few roads.
BX resident Noah Massa said he hasn’t seen a plow in his neighbourhood since before Dec. 30 and more than 70 cm of snow has accumulated on roads in the area, which he said he understands are low priority.
“I have never seen conditions like this,” Massa said. “And this snowfall is not unusual for Vernon.”
Massa said he’s attempted to contact the AIM Roads multiple times and the Ministry of Transportation, but was still left with no answers. This, he said, left him frustrated with the “lack of service.”
“We absolutely acknowledge that we couldn’t stay within our normal program and it’s caused us no end of grief,” Ehman said. “And if we’ve missed people, we deeply apologize.”
By the time crews reached Canyon Road in Enderby on Tuesday morning, 11 centimetres of snow had accumulated. That’s under the 15 cm of accumulation permissible for a Class-D road, but a far cry from the response time Ehman’s team aims for.
“We never try to wait until we get to 15 cm, but our priority are the higher class roads that are before those,” Ehman said.
AIM Roads started a 10-year contract for the South Okanagan and Okanagan Shuswap in October 2018 — managing around 2,500 kilometres of roads. The company recently purchased 72 new pieces of equipment and procured used equipment at auctions from other companies.
Much of the procurement of snow removal hardware was needed after the province awarded 26 new contracts in an 18-month span.
“It’s not an equipment or a resource issue,” Ehman said in reference to the challenges of the previous snowstorm. “We’ve thrown everything we have at it, plus we’ve hired a pile of subcontractors.”
On Tuesday, crews were out in full force handling another dump of snow, made worse by a temperature rise that turned compact snow to slush and 30-cm-deep ruts that require graders to remove.
“That’s the only machine that’s really going to be able to take care of those,” Ehman explained. “We had 14 graders going 24-hours a day.”
AIM Roads’ communications centre gets a list of unplowed roads called in every day, and Ehman encouraged people to call in if there are still any unplowed roads from previous storms.
“We’ll be certain to make sure they’re taken care of.”