Cold, stormy weather taxes town workers and equipment

Andrea Gunn
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Town expects to remain within snow clearing budget

Despite the extraordinarily long, extra frigid and super snowy winter that has pummeled Newfoundland and Labrador this year, the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor still expects to be right on mark with their snow clearing budget for 2014.

The Town of Grand Falls-Windsor has been busier than usual with snowclearing this winter. Despite the brutal winter that hit the Exploits Valley, the town expects to remain within budget with snow clearing.

However, this winter the town has spent about 12 percent more than last year’s snowclearing season, said Coun. Darren Finn, chair of the Public Works and Planning Committee.

He told the Advertiser Tuesday the town had budgeted $891,000 for the snowclearing in 2014 and, to the end of February, had spent $782,000.

Last year, to the end of Februray, the town had spent only $695,000 for snowclearing.

Finn said the costs include everything from vehicle maintenance on their 18 pieces of snow clearing equipment, to road salt, and salaries of their seasonal employees who are employed until May.

Some of the cost increase over last year is thanks to a greater number of storms and larger amount of snow meaning more clearing, more fuel consumption and more wear and tear on vehicles.

“Our fuel consumption for period ending at the end of February in 2013 we would have spent $46,000 in fuel; this year we spent $60,000,” Finn said.

Even with snowfall and cold temperatures so far this March, Finn said he feels confident the town will remain on budget.

“Our budgeting crosses two winters so by the time we do another budget it will cross over and go right to December,” he said. “Unless we have a hard December coming up we can manage to stay on budget.”

There has been a significant amount of controversy in places like St. John’s this winter with complaints that snowclearing is not up to standard.

According to Finn complaints in Grand Falls-Windsor are minimal, and he feels the Town has sufficient staff and equipment to get the job done.

“There’s always room for improvements. The complaints we do get are usually around cul-de-sacs and narrow roads that need to be cleaned, and the schedule of roads, but our complaints are really low and usually we’re able to respond quickly to citizens when they do complain,” he said.  “We have the right amount of equipment and the right amount of staff to deal with heavy snow and we’re not concerned with it. We’re not concerned about the storms we have or the storms coming.”

Aside from the obvious expenses like snow clearing and road salting, other things that eat away at public works funds during the winter include the cost of repairing water main breaks due to frozen pipes, and frozen water supply lines, both of which Finn said have been much more frequent this winter.

“We’ve had about a dozen water main breaks (this year) and in a normal year you’d have three or four,” he said.

Because the frost is so deep in the ground – about 5-6 feet – Finn said getting in to fix those breaks has been challenge.

 “To get at those water lines we’ve had to bring in very heavy equipment to actually chisel away at the frost and break the ground up to do those repairs. The time is longer, it’s uncomfortable work for those working at it and it’s hard on the equipment used to make the repairs. We’ve had to do a lot of that kind of work; it really ties up your resources fixing breaks in the winter.”

Finn added the town has also had to thaw about 17 water supply lines this winter.

“We’ve had unusual freeze ups this year. We even had a sewer line freeze in one place; the sewer line (usually) never freezes because sewer lines generate heat. We’ve also had storm sewers that have frozen up. It’s been a really cold winter.”

Even though it is now technically spring, the Exploits Valley hasn’t seen a lot of balmy spring weather just yet. Even when the warmer weather hits, Finn said, employees will have their work cut out for them cleaning up the sand used on the roads, fixing potholes and so on.

Like most everyone else in Newfoundland and Labrador, Finn said he’s certainly looking forward to seeing the snow melt and warmer weather move in.

“Winters are hard on buildings, they’re hard on equipment, and they’re hard on workers,” he said. “From a municipal point of view it’s all draining, there’s really no upside to the snow.”

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Exploits Valley, Newfoundland and Labrador

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