City hoping for respite from snowfall

Daniel MacEachern
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Accumulations means sidewalks will take weeks to be cleared

St. John’s city council Monday urged residents coping with “Snowmageddon” to look out for each other and to help dig out fire hydrants.

City of St. John’s director of public works and deputy city manager Paul Mackey updates council on the city’s snow removal efforts at Monday afternoon’s regular public city council meeting at St. John’s City Hall. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

As the weather warms and power returns to homes and businesses across the island that have been darkened by blackouts for the last four days, city snow-clearing crews — now working round-the-clock until further notice — hope to make headway on the snow choking streets and frustrating residents.

Paul Mackey, the city’s director of public works, said most of the city’s major thoroughfares are in a “pretty good state” after the weekend’s heavy snowfall.

“Based on the accumulation we have now, which is a record accumulation on the ground for this time of year, we’ve realized we’ve got a big task ahead to clean up, so we’ve extended the working hours to 24 hours a day now until further notice,” he told council Monday night.

Councillor-at-large Tom Hann acknowledged the amount of snow on the streets has been frustrating for residents, but pleaded for patience and defended the city’s operations.

“I would ask them to realize that our staff do have a snow-removal protocol, and it works very well under normal circumstances,” he said. “But when we get hit with what we got hit with over the last few days, then it takes an extra effort to keep up with it, and the fact that they’re going 24 hours a day now is an example of what’s required.”

At-large Coun. Sandy Hickman said crews have been working hard over the holidays. “We are basically surviving ‘Snowmageddon’ at the Christmas period,” he said. “It’s unusual. It doesn’t happen every year. It happens, usually, January, February, where we’ll get that four or five weeks of snow every two or three days. It’s happened earlier this year, could go on for a long time. We’d better be prepared, and people of this city better be prepared that it’s going to be tough slogging.”

City council is also appealing to residents to help dig out the city’s 3,200 fire hydrants if they can, to assist the city staff and contractors also working on it.

Mackey said the priority for crews now is trucking snow away from congested streets, especially downtown. “The overnight removals will be in the downtown core,” he said. “People need to call the snow line (576-7669) every day after three o’clock to get the information on what streets are scheduled, and they have to have their cars off on those particular nights.”

Sidewalks will prove a tougher challenge, said Mackey. “Unfortunately, with the amount of snow we have down now, our designated sidewalk machines are smaller machines that have to fit in that five- or six-foot width,” he said. “They’re of very little use. The accumulations are just too high — the machines are out there trying to do what they can, but with very little progress.”

Crews are focusing on clearing snow from sidewalks drop-off zones around schools, said Mackey.

“But as far as the sidewalk routes themselves, we have to put them on a lower priority than getting some of these congested streets downtown done, because we have to be able to maintain access for emergency vehicles,” he said.

“Some are getting to the point that they’re getting close to be totally clogged, so we have to get those done first. Realistically, it’s going to be several weeks before all those sidewalks on those routes done, because they’re going to require the same large blowers and trucks that we’re using to remove from the streets downtown.”

Ward 4 Coun. Bernard Davis raised the evacuation of seniors from Cambridge Estates, which didn’t have power, to a nearby hotel. “I’m going to ask that the city planning and engineering department enter into discussions with the province to see about the possibility of placing some regulations on seniors’ complexes to ensure that they have backup generating capabilities to ensure our seniors are protected in those situations,” he said.

The city will be keeping its warming centre open in the Foran Room at City Hall open this week for anyone still without power.

Ward 1 Coun. Danny Breen said he heard several reports of people being left without power for long stretches, but said most issues were dealt with well by provincial


“I think Hydro and Newfoundland Power have done a really good job,” he said. “Great communication job.”

Organizations: Newfoundland Power

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