February '14 Newsletter

Outside Services takes on snow challenge

 Grader operator Tom Zahara and fellow crewman Don Barrett

working to clear snow on 52nd Street in January. Frequent dumps of snow have kept the

Town’s Outside Services department very busy throughout the winter season.


Some residents may have mixed feelings about whether or not local crews get the snow cleared from the streets soon enough, but one thing is certain; staff members of the Town of Athabasca Outside Services department are determined and dedicated to do the best they can as quick as they can.

Heavy snow fall this season has certainly challenged the department, especially considering that snow removal isn’t their only task. In order to deal with the demands of the unpredictable dumps of frosty precipitation, Outside Services has a schedule outlining which streets and areas must be given first priority, which are to follow, and so on.

“We do have a plan,” confirms Outside Services Superintendent Rick Kolach. “We have priority areas that we tackle first before moving on to other areas.”

The first priority includes the downtown core, the fire hall, certain hills, the hospital and schools.

The second priority focuses on residential areas, typically beginning with the hills and difficult areas.

The third priority includes parking lots, alleys and other areas not already tended to.

Rick has a map of the town with streets coloured in with red, yellow, green or grey to signify their level of priority. Under normal circumstances, each area is addressed in turn and as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, nature can be unpredictable and even the best laid plans can go awry.

“If we get another big dump of snow before we’ve finished in one area, then we have to go back and start with the first area again,” Rick explains. “It’s frustrating when you have to start over but we get through it.”

While a mapped-out plan may not remedy the frustration, it does help to keep the process focused and systematic. That is especially beneficial when crews and equipment are pressed into extended service as they have been this year.

“So far, (mid-January) we have received as much snowfall as we did all of last year,” says Rick. “The brunt of it came at Christmastime and our crews worked day and night Boxing Day to get things opened up. The grader seat never had time to cool off, except when the grader stopped for grease and fuel.”

A spare grader belonging to Athabasca County happened to be available, a rare occurrence, so the Town commissioned it for use to provide added support for the Town’s lone grader on Boxing Day. Periods of snowfall and the demands of snow removal continued to be just as intense after Christmas.

In addition to pushing the snow off of the streets, there are certain back alleys that need to be plowed as well as the Town’s lagoons, the trailer dump site and certain sidewalks throughout town. “It’s a fulltime job for the sidewalk guy,” declares Rick, “especially when it snows so often.”

Snow from the streets and sidewalks can be pushed up or pushed aside in some areas of town. In other areas, it has to be hauled away. The Town’s single-axle truck was out of commission, so local trucks were hired to haul the snow to a designated dumping site just north of town.

There are a few areas in town where drainage concerns can develop in springtime so extra effort is made to remove snow from those areas. For example, a few streets in the Cornwall area, downtown near the Brick School, and on the south hill near the Athabasca Inn.

Rick notes that the overall snow removal plan allows for flexibility in the event of emergencies or other unexpected conditions.

“The important thing is that we do have a plan and we try to stick to it as best as we can,” he says. “We try to keep everybody happy, but it’s not always possible because you can only get to things so fast, but we try. We have a good crew here. I can’t say enough good things about them.”

Please contact the Town Office with any snow removal questions or concerns.

Excerpts from CAO Report, January 2014

In his report to Town Council in January, Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Maier included some points of interest and statistics relating to snow removal. Here are some of the items from the report:

  • Outside Services staff continue to be busy with snow removal on streets and sidewalks at the end of 2013 and into 2014. Staff were called in over the Christmas break when a large accumulation of snow occurred. Equipment involved in snow removal includes the Town’s grader, loader, skid steer, sanding truck, gravel trucks, and mower with broom attachment for sidewalks. The Town was also able to borrow the County’s spare grader for use on a Saturday when it wasn’t being used. Staff often worked in split shifts beginning very early in the morning (2am) to complete work.
  • Snow removal budget to the end of 2013 was over by 31% due to the large amounts of snow in the calendar year. Budgeted expenses for 2013 were $173,000, with actual expenses at nearly $227,000.
  • The wind storm of January 15 caused a number of problems for the Town. Staff worked quickly to remove a number of fallen trees blocking roadways and steamed a frozen storm sewer main that was backing up and causing flooding near Home Hardware. The resulting freeze-thaw cycle and high winds also left many roads in very icy condition. Staff once again began working in split shifts from very early in the morning in an attempt to clear the streets of the accumulation.

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Responsible Snow Removal Required by Residents

 Shaun Woloschuk, Peace Officer


Heavy snowfall throughout the 2013-2014 winter season has presented challenges for everybody, including residents, Town Outside Services and Town by-law enforcement. The spirit of respect and co-operation is very important as all parties endeavour to deal with the snow.

Local Peace Officer Shaun Woloschuk is responsible for monitoring and enforcing Town by-laws and he appreciates the understanding he receives from community members when he has to approach them with snow removal concerns.

“We are getting record dumps of snow to what we normally have,” says Shaun. “It was getting to the point where there was nowhere to put the snow. For the most part, everyone I have talked to has been complaining.”

For public safety, residents and property owners in the Town of Athabasca are required to have the snow or ice removed from the public portion of any sidewalks abutting their residential property within 48 hours of a rain or snowfall. This applies to both occupied and vacant properties. Business, commercial and institutional zones must comply within 24 hours.

“People may have different reasons for not complying immediately, every scenario is different,” Shaun admits. “An elderly person might have health concerns. Some residents work out of town and may be away. I try to work with the individual and their circumstances.”

If a resident or property owner is not able to clear the walks themselves, it is their responsibility to find a way to have the work done for them.

“I’ll talk to them to find out why the snow isn’t getting shovelled,” says Shaun. “I’ll explain that it’s got to be done. If they can’t do it, if they don’t have the means, I will encourage them to try to make other arrangements.”

In some cases, they might call family or friends. Shaun has seen instances where neighbours have volunteered to help, and that’s the spirit of community and co-operation he likes to see. Some residents have contracted local snow removal services to take care of the issue.

In accordance with Town by-laws, he will follow-up with situations that warrant it, but he encourages residents who have a complaint about a neighbour to be courteous and patient as he does have a process he follows.

“I always explain what needs to be done to comply with the by-law,” Shaun explains. “I’ll let them know what the consequences are so they understand what they need to do so I don’t have to come back again.”

Although he is not obligated to contact a resident to explain the process or to give any warnings, he chooses to do so as a public service. When a violation does warrant a penalty, he typically issues it on the lighter end of the scale as a first warning that the situation needs to be resolved quickly.

Failure to meet the requirements could result in the Town undertaking the work and charging the cost to the property owner. Residents should be aware that snow or ice from the public portion of the sidewalk can be placed within a town road right of way, but snow or ice on their own private property cannot.

Power cords or cables can present another safety issue and town residents should know that it is unlawful to run cords or cables across a public sidewalk or roadway unless secured in a manner approved by Town personnel.

While the snow and ice removal by-law is intended to promote and support public safety, pedestrians must still take personal responsibility for their own safety and are advised to take due care when walking on any sidewalks or roads.


Fines and towing for abandoned vehicles

One other concern that is further aggravated by heavy snowfall is the issue of abandoned vehicles. Vehicles parked on public streets and roadways that have not been moved in 72 hours or more are considered to be abandoned and are subject to fines and action under both the Town by-law and the Provincial Traffic Safety Act.

“During heavy snow times, parked vehicles can be a problem,” says Shaun. “They can interfere with snow removal and some vehicles get plowed in, making it even more difficult to move them.”

When a 72-hour violation occurs, Shaun, as a Peace Officer, has the choice of issuing a fine under the Town by-law or a fine in accordance with the Traffic Safety Act.

He may try to contact the owner to advise them of the seriousness of the issue, although he is not obligated to do so. Whether or not he has contacted the owner, if the vehicle is not moved, it will be towed away.

While the 72-hour abandoned vehicle rule applies year round regardless of the weather conditions, Shaun emphasizes that during the winter, the issue can be even more critical.

For information about any of the Town by-laws, please contact the Town Office.


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