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Extreme cold too much for city's 'snow fighters'

'Non-essential snow clearing' on hold, says city
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(Alaska Highway News File Photo)

The City of Fort St. John says it has paused “non-essential” snow clearing operations until further notice due the extreme cold.

The city said Tuesday that extreme cold temperatures below -30 degrees damages its snow clearing equipment.

The city has received 28.5 centimetres, or 11 inches, of snow since Christmas, according to Environment Canada data, most of which has crusted into sheens of ice and inches-deep ruts on main streets and residential roads across town.

The city’s snow removal policy states that, at a bare minimum, snow and ice must be cleared after snowfall accumulations between 5 to 15 cm, or about two to six inches, over a 72 hour period. Since Sunday, roughly 15 centimetres, or six inches, has fallen.

The city's policy does not mention what is considered "non-essential" or non-urgent" snow clearing. There is also no mention of what constitutes its weather-related protocols.

As of Wednesday morning, temperatures in Fort St. John were reported at -34 degrees, with an extreme cold warning still in place by Environment Canada.

The city said in its statement that its “snow fighters,” meaning its snow plows, are continuing to “monitor conditions, apply winter sand, and will respond to safety-sensitive issues.”

Still, the city’s Facebook page has been bombarded with complaints from residents, noting that snow clearing has continued regardless of the weather in private yards, homes, and other cities also gripped by the extreme cold. Others have complained about the lack of safe access to businesses and of blocked sidewalks.

“I'm driving on 100th right now and it's horrible. Side roads even worse. Huge humps to get across anywhere,” said resident Chelsea Lynn. “I’d say road maintenance should be considered essential and needed for safety.”

Resident Shannon Mattson noted that garbage collection was still taking place.

“I'm not sure how their equipment is handling this cold but our city plows can’t?” Mattson asked. “I’m fortunate enough to have a 4 wheel truck which just makes these drifts hurt the back with bouncing but what about the little vehicles. My concern is also fire and ambulance if an area they need to get to is froze drifted in.”

Dawson Creek resident Kevin Wayne said his street has been cleared and that “the graders have been out 24 hours a day, they are out currently even with the temperatures. If the city of Dawson Creek can do it why can’t you guys? Is it a management issue?”

Said Amanda Hall, “PG has been having similar temperatures and weather yet they didn’t stop.”

"Our community is out doing Taylor!!!" said Melanie Peever-Cooper.

Others sympathized with the cold conditions, but noted that city residents were still carrying on essential services across the city.

"Most are aware of the additional challenges that you face in running any vehicle/equipment in this type of weather. The private sector faces the same challenges," said Christine Goodley. "Was this new policy weighed against the societal costs of not doing the work? The roads are currently hazardous, yet delivery drivers are still trying to work, volunteers still delivering meals to your community’s most vulnerable.

"A few years back, your road crews stopped working nights, and now they don’t work when it’s cold out. Perhaps it’s time to consider contracting out this essential function if the city is not able to accept any possible risk. There are real life consequences for everyone else, when the city throws their toys out of the pram."

City councillors are expected to discuss the concerns at their next meeting.

Daytime highs in Fort St. John are expected to reach -33 on Wednesday, -26 on Thursday, -29 on Friday, and -27 on Saturday before temperatures are forecast to warm up next week. Environment Canada says extreme wind chlls near or below -40 are expected to continue due to winds from the north.

Click here to read the city's snow removal policy.

Click here to read the city's snow removal priority map.


Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca