Winter

Halifax councillors will mull snow removal switch-up

Municipal report and contract renewals coincide for possible changes in snow services

Are snowplows getting the cold shoulder? Council awaits a HRM report before freezing anything out.   Mathew Kahansky

The first big snowfall of the season has come to Halifax and while plows are out, there have been a pile of comments and complaints as well.

Halifax West Armdale councillor, Shawn Cleary is one such detractor of the Halifax Regional Municipality’s snow clearing service; he often speaks about the issue on his Twitter account.

In a phone interview, Cleary says his neighbour became housebound after a slip in the snow years ago, which opened his eyes to snow removal issues. The councillor finds the municipality prioritizes cars over pedestrians, with “sidewalks taking back seat” during snow removal which make them inaccessible.

“Too often, you don’t think about the elderly or those with limited mobility,” says Cleary. “Inconsistency is a big thing; residents in one neighbourhood shouldn’t get (a) better (snow removal) service than another.”

Mark Cunningham, president of CUPE Local 108 representing all HRM-employed outdoor workers, understands the struggles contractors often face. He says that some contractors are expected to handle large routes, often without proper equipment.

HRM standards dictate that contractors aim to remove snow right down to the pavement as much as possible, which can be difficult in vehicles that can’t move and scrape properly in tight residential streets.

Cunningham says tools for this type of job, like bending blades that don’t leave behind layers of snow, should be part of the contract, but aren’t. Leftover snow can often compact into ice later in the season or melt and form pools.

Driving between neighbourhoods, Cunningham can tell one contractor’s work from another.

“Big contractors have more equipment and can handle all the work,” says Cunningham.

In late 2016, a motion was unanimously passed by municipal council for staff to compile a report on snow removal services. The report will contain suggestions on how to best budget snow removal, which Cleary says could potentially mandate the use of more expensive equipment.

However, as far as this winter goes, the HRM will keep operating under existing standards. There will be “no significant changes this winter season because contracts can’t change before terms expire,” says Tiffany Chase, Senior Communications Advisor with the HRM.

Chase says the snow removal report is expected in April when current contracts expire. This will give the municipality a chance to include suggestions on new service stipulations in the new contracts.

Cleary is also considering whether the municipality should make residents shovel their own sidewalks once again, a responsibility the HRM took over in 2013. Cleary says that council’s decision will depend on the report’s results. While he appreciates when a service is given value, he also acknowledges that it’s sometimes better to cut back.

(Maybe the case will be to) “get rid of clearing and put the funds towards other residents that need help,” says Cleary.

Still, Cunningham thinks the municipality needs a long-term snow removal solution.

“The HRM needs to move away from outsourcing,” he says. “We have a service, so let’s provide it.”

Snow removal for this past weekend’s storm is expected to conclude tonight, Jan. 9, at 8:30 p.m.

For a detailed look at snow removal services in the HRM, including timelines on sidewalk and street clearing times visit: Halifax.ca/snow.

Complaints can be called into 311, but Chase warns that  “calls are not dispatched if complaints are made during a street’s timeline.”