Up to their neck in snow
Municipal budget blown, and weeks before they can catch up
By Chris Woodall
Whistler's snow removal budget is buried under the great snowfall of '96-'97 and it'll be weeks — even if it doesn't snow more — to catch up to what's around, says Whistler's acting roads foreman Andy Chalk.
The municipality's 17-person crew have been chalking up mega-overtime driving all-wheel drive trucks, loaders, one-tons and backhoes trying to keep this winter's snows off the streets.
"The crews have been diligently working at it," Chalk says. "I've been quite impressed with them. Some crews have already earned up to three weeks of overtime. They're not obligated to work it, so they're missing a lot of ski days."
Budget-wise, the municipality has spent twice what it normally does to push and haul the white stuff away, Chalk says. "We're $50,000 over budget at least, maybe closer to $75,000... and that's just this year so far."
Mother Nature — or the snow god Ullr, take your pick of scapegoats — hasn't co-operated, dumping snow through consistently cold weather to hinder snow clearing efforts by several more weeks. "Usually between every snow fall we have had rain or a warm spell" to help melt what falls, Chalk says.
With more white stuff arriving in Whistler earlier this week, it doesn't look as if the road crew will eat away all of Mother Nature's sno-cones any time soon.
"If we had a good warm spell we'd be caught up in a few weeks," Chalk says.
"There has been a lot of grumbling" from the impatient about Whistler's snow removal exertions, Chalk acknowledges.
"They seem to feel it's in their driveway and no one else's. If (removal) is our responsibility, we deal with it; if it's a contractor, we'll get on them" to do it.
For the most part, Chalk says, people who call up the roads department to complain are reminded that there's been a lot more snow this year than is usual and that everyone has to help out.
Bus drivers have had lots of fun negotiating the "one lane streets" made possible thanks to inopportune car parkers. A bus driver recently had to dragoon his passengers into helping push three or four vehicles out of the way before the bus could proceed through Alpine Meadows during a particularly slippery slice of weather.
Cars parked illegally or otherwise during a dump of snow are tolerated, but if bylaw officers can't find the owner to move the vehicle, or the car makes it difficult for buses or emergency vehicles to get through, those snow-bound cars will have to be ticketed and towed. "If we can't get past, then what can we do but move the car," Chalk says.
"Hindsight is 20-20: if people would use some foresight when they park, they'd solve their own problems," Chalk suggests.
Whistler's snow crew have been throwing a lot of crushed granite to add some grit to icy streets. There's some salt mixed in, too.
"We're very conservative," Chalk says of his 12-1 dirt-to-salt recipe. "We won't use straight salt except for high-traffic areas," unlike highways crews, who also have the budget for it.
"Salt is expensive," Chalk says of the $50 a ton mineral, compared to a few dollars a ton for dirt.
And with Whistler's colder blasts this year, it doesn't make sense — or cents — or throw salt on the streets when it won't do its magic below -6C, Chalk says.