Town Engineer Dwayne Acton says Sackville’s 10-member snow-clearing crew has been working punishingly long hours this winter to fulfill their number one priority: keeping streets cleared and sidewalks cleaned throughout each of four major storms in the space of five weeks.
“It’s not easy,” Acton told town council on Monday as he described the chaotic conditions that arise when big storms bury the town under 50 cm of snow.
“We have these major storms, one after the other after the other,” Acton said, his voice rising in frustration.
“Everybody is up to here with the snow and people are pushing snow on everybody else and out onto the streets and out onto the sidewalks and then, we’re trying to clear those streets and sidewalks for the safety of the public.”
He was responding to e-mails complaining that crews had been slow to clear parks and access to trails.
“In this past storm, if you remember Sunday was beautiful, meanwhile we just had 50 cm of snow dumped on us and we weren’t able to get everything open and there were some people who weren’t happy about that,” Acton said.
“After we’ve done the clearing of the streets and the sidewalks and the blowing of the downtown, then we can get the Waterfowl Park and the [trails around] the retention pond open,” he added.
Punishing overtime hours
Acton said that during the last major storm, his 10-member crew began work at 3:30 a.m. on Thursday.
“They ran twelve-and-a-half hours before they were able to go home and get a rest; then they started again the next morning at 3:30 and they ran fifteen-and-a-half hours straight clearing snow throughout the entire storm so that our fire department can get to any emergencies if they happen,” Acton said, adding that the plowing also helped people get to and from work.
“Nine-and-a-half hours Saturday, they worked straight through and then followed up by anywhere from four to six hours on Sunday to tidy up that storm.”
Acton pointed out that all but eight of those hours were overtime.
“That’s just one storm, that’s what our guys go through every time we have to do a major event like that,” he said.
He added that while keeping roads and streets clear is quite a challenge, sidewalks can be even harder.
“We’re plowing and trying to blow snow, three to four to five feet of snow, it’s hard enough to know where the sidewalk is let alone trying to get a blower through it,” he said.
“We can’t push it with the blade so our blower is going about a quarter of the speed, so it takes us four times longer than we normally would to do sidewalks.”
Acton listed other areas that have to be cleared including the Town Hall, Bill Johnstone Park, the Civic Centre, the Visitor Information Centre, the Public Works garage, 14 sewage lift stations, the water treatment plants and more than 300 fire hydrants.
“You all saw how much snow was [in the] downtown after a big storm like that, we can’t go two, three, four days with those banks like that,” Acton said.
“So then what do we do? We have to turn around and we’ve got to try to do what we call a downtown cleanup.”
Acton said the town hired 10 to 12 dump trucks to haul the snow away over one-and-a-half to two days.
“So, unless council is prepared to hire more staff and provide more equipment or hire it out at more of an expense, I don’t see any other way than what we’ve been doing for many, many years and that is prioritize on roads and streets and sidewalks followed by our park properties,” he said.
“Mr. Acton, I want to thank you and the boys for all the work that you do,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney.
“I know what it’s like because I did the same kind of work for almost 40 years,” he added.
Phinney said there are always people who aren’t satisfied with snow clearing, often because they don’t understand what’s involved and how long it takes.
“If they had the opportunity of maybe riding with one of the boys, maybe they could go out at 3:30 in the morning and stay until twelve-and-a-half hours,” he added.
“Then they might have a better understanding of exactly what you and your boys do.”