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Halifax prepares for winter by improving snow removal

The city improves snow removal procedures in response to last winter's high snowfall

Mike Wilkinson stands with one of the snowblowers Dalhousie Facilities Management used to keep the campus clear last winter.
Mike Wilkinson stands with one of the snowblowers Dalhousie Facilities Management used to keep the campus clear last winter.   Steve Large

Halifax Regional Municipality and Dalhousie University are getting ready to deal with this winter’s snowfall.

Halifax saw more than 300 cm of snow last winter. Blizzards shut down the city multiple times and walls of snow left by the ploughs made it difficult to walk on the sidewalks and reach bus stops for weeks.

Some Haligonians expressed their frustrations with the snow on Twitter…

 …While others made the best of a bad situation.

 

Long range forecasts predict snow will start falling in late November this year, with snowstorms coming in early December. Last winter, significant snowfall started in January and continued into spring.

Even with the obstacles the snowfall made for the city, Dalhousie University managed to keep its campus clear and accessible.

Dalhousie’s environmental services manager Mike Wilkinson said it was due to hard work by the facilities management staff.

“It’s just dedication to what we do,” said Wilkinson. “We have an in-house crew that handles all the hand shoveling at the wheelchair ramps and doorways.”

Dalhousie is equipped with one skid steer, 10 snow blowers, and a few dozen shovels. To clear the snowfall from larger storms, the university works with Ocean Contractors Ltd., which brings five more skid steers and two half-ton trucks with salt sprayers and ploughs.

To prepare for the coming winter, Wilkinson said facilities management will do what it always does.

“Each year we do the same thing in anticipation of the worst,” he said. “And we got the worst last year. Most years it’s not that bad, but that may be changing and that may be our new norm. We are as prepared as we can be. Short of things like White Juan, the equipment and machinery we have is suitable.” White Juan is the hurricane-strength blizzard that struck Nova Scotia in February, 2004.

Wilkinson has the same contracts in place this year but has ordered more rock salt to de-ice the roads. He said the budget for snow removal at the university varies depending on how much snow there is.

“We know what we’re capable of and what nature could potentially throw at us,” he said. “There’s only so much you can do to be prepared.”

Good snow removal makes life easier for students

Chris Williams, a fourth-year management student at Dalhousie, said he was thankful the university was more efficient at clearing the snow than the city was last winter.

“It was a lot easier to walk between classes because of the snow removal,” said Williams. “All around the Tupper [Building] was completely clear of snow but my street was complete ice.”

Karis Tees, a contemporary studies student at the University of King’s College said the snow removal around the university made it easier for her to get around.

“I had an easier time getting around the campus than I did around the city,” she said. “Especially on the sidewalks. When the sidewalks were covered in ice, the university made sure the ice was chipped away.”

Better snow removal for HRM

In August, city council was presented with a winter operations strategic direction recommendations report. After discussions and amendments were made, regional council approved several motions to improve snow clearing operations in the HRM this season.

The improvement plan includes increasing the 311 call centre capacity during severe storms, better monitoring for contractor performance and quality, improving sidewalk clearing, and getting stricter on drivers during winter parking bans.

Jennifer Stairs, a spokesperson for the city, said the improvements are a response to the heavy snowfall last winter.

“This past winter was among the worst in decades,” said Stairs. “The conditions seriously challenged winter operations around the Halifax region, so we wanted to ensure that crews are better prepared this season.”

Residents should be aware that Halifax Regional Police will be more aggressive with ticketing and towing during parking bans.

Stairs said although fines won’t increase, at least for this season, police will be making an effort to tow cars off high priority streets — such as those near schools and hospitals — so crews can clear them.

The city of Halifax spent $36-million on snow removal last winter according to the end-of season winter operations report. The city’s usual budget for snow removal is $22-million and the additional costs were covered by the snow and ice control reserve fund, as well as redirected funds from other areas in Transportation and Public Works.

“There was some discussion by council about increasing the budget,” said Stairs. “In the end, they kept it the same because last season was such an extraordinary winter. The $22-million is typically sufficient to cover our winter expenditures.”

Mike Wilkinson at Dalhousie was contacted by representatives from Halifax, Chester, and other communities last winter to ask how he kept on top of the snow.

“There’s no secrets or magic formulas,” he said. “It’s just hard work, dedication to it and getting the timing right.”