On the same day the City of Whitehorse announced it has put a further $450,000 towards snow removal for this winter, city council members voted to move ahead with a major review of its snow and ice policy for future years.
Early in the day on Feb. 14, ahead of that evening’s council meeting where members approved the review, Mayor Laura Cabott announced $450,000 would be spent to deal with the unprecedented amount of snow in Whitehorse this season. The amount is in addition to the $240,000 identified for snow removal in the proposed 2022 operating budget.
In the short term
The additional funds are being spent on the hiring of more private contractors to assist with snow removal as city crews also continue to work around the clock to deal with the snow.
“Our crews are working seven days a week,” Cabott said. “They’re working overtime. They’re working in the evenings. And the thing that’s changed here is that we’ve added a number of private contractors to help city crews.”
“We’ll be having a second crew which will be dedicated to Whistle Bend and a third crew that will be picking up streets throughout the rest of Whitehorse that desperately need to (have snow) removed,” Cabott said.
The announcement of the additional funding to come from city reserves was made a week after snow removal dominated discussion at that week’s council meeting. At the time, administration indicated plans were in the works, but more time was needed to sort out those plans and more money would most likely be needed to deal with the snow.
“Residents have been patient, but that patience is running thin and it’s not safe,” Cabott said during the press conference. “It’s not acceptable that we haven’t been able to clear all of the roads. So I’m really hopeful by the end of this week, we’ll have completed most of that work.”
In the long-term
As for the long-term future of snow clearing in the city, Cabott said the comprehensive review will help guide the city as it continues to deal with increasing snowfalls that seem to be hitting Whitehorse each winter.
“I would surmise that that is going to give us some new ideas on equipment, the types of equipment we need for this new reality, how we prioritize streets, how we ensure that our downtown is accessible to everyone and that we are better able to manage it,” she said. “It (the city) is, right now, working with a policy that is outdated, that is not responding to the changing climate. It doesn’t allow us to provide the excellent service that we would like to provide for citizens.”
Council was unanimous in voting to add $100,000 from city reserves for the review that is expected to be done by the fall.
As Michael Abbott, the city’s acting manager of fleet and transportation services, said in an earlier report to council: “The review will conduct a gap analysis of the city’s policy and the current allocations of budget and fleet resources, examine other approaches used in similar sized winter cities, identify any new and emergent technologies and best practices, and detail an implementation plan for recommended change.
“This review will also provide key inputs into the ongoing snow site management plan review and examine the current fee structure for use of the city’s snow dump facilities.”
City operations manager Tracy Allen confirmed when questioned by Coun. Kirk Cameron that the review would also look at accessibility and trail issues around snow clearing.
Issues around schools were also cited. Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu pointed to student safety concerns brought forward by the Grey Mountain Primary School council during an operating budget public input session (See coverage, opposite page.) and Coun. Ted Laking suggested the review should also consider enhancing snow removal along school bus routes with the possibility of asking the Department of Education to consider funding for such work.
“I think that when we have school buses getting stuck on the way to class or way back from class that that’s not appropriate and we should be looking at how we can enhance school bus routes as well,” Laking said.
Cabott also reiterated her support for the review ahead of the vote, noting the city is clearly working with an outdated policy that was developed when Whitehorse had a more semi-arid climate.
“We’re not there anymore,” she said.
Record snowfalls in recent years mean the city needs to respond with a more wholesome policy, she said.
While Cabott expressed excitement about the policy review, she also cited concerns around a tight timeline to have the policy done in time to implement changes for the 2023-24 winter season.
“I’m really hopeful that we will be able to issue the RFP (request for proposals) or the tender – however, we are proposing to do it – so that the work can start to be done as soon as possible so that we get the information that we need to inform the operating budget and the capital budget for 2023,” she said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org