The scoop on snow removal

Brian Jones
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Driving home from work Wednesday night during the most recent Storm of the Century, I came across a young guy using a snowshoe to dig out his hopelessly stuck car.

I didn’t laugh. Fortunately, the raging snow hid my half-smile, half-grin.

I had a shovel, and in less than 10 minutes we got his tiny car out of the deep drift and onto clear pavement.

His car wasn’t a Smart Car, but it was about that size. Younger Boy and I have a running joke about Smart Cars: “They’re not very smart in February.”

To be current, we would have to change that line to “March,” but some people, such as St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, would launch into a lecture about how March is not a winter month.

The tiny car had not gone off the road. In fact, it was stuck right above where the yellow line would be. We were on a main rural road that, two hours after the storm set in, had not — gasp! — been plowed.

With a slew of ponds in the area, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s has a number of natural wind tunnels. Snow blows off the ponds and onto the roads, unless there is a stand of trees to stop it.

You can be driving on clear pavement and suddenly come across a snowdrift a foot or two deep across the road.

That’s what had happened to the tiny car hauling snowshoes. He got stuck again 100 metres down the road. Again, we cleared a 10-metre path through the drift to clear pavement, and he was away once more.

Wind, not snow, caused Wednesday’s havoc.

During a 25-minute drive, I encountered at least half a dozen snowdrifts across the road, essentially creating a blockade for small cars.

What I wonder is, how can such snowdrifts, on a main road, go unplowed for more than two hours?

Weather is not the problem.

Our reaction to weather is the problem. Or, more specifically, our lack of reaction to weather is the problem.

News reports about impending weather should be short and blunt: “There will be snow and wind.”

Instead — and the CBC is the primary culprit — weather reports have morphed into bulletins of doom.

We don’t get a 10-centimetre snowfall anymore. Every snowfall is classified as a “storm,” the full fury of a seemingly enraged Mother Nature.

There were significant winds Wednesday night.

But I’m less interested in hearing that winds reached 100 km/h than I am in hearing about why, for the 517th consecutive winter, snowclearing is so woefully inadequate.

Part of the puzzle was solved in St. John’s this week.

City residents were gullible enough last fall to re-elect a mayor who thinks winter ends in mid-March.

This is worth repeating until, someday, it penetrates the minds of the people in charge: heavy snowfalls are not the problem.

Snow not being removed is the problem.

Politicians, like toddlers, repeat the same thing over and over.

“It would be too expensive.”

“It would cost too much money.”

“We don’t have it in our budget.”

That is a side issue. The main issue is clearing roads and sidewalks to make them safe and make it possible for residents to get around.

Every winter, it is obvious St. John’s needs more equipment and personnel.

But nothing will improve until municipal and provincial officials stop defending their approach, and admit that quick and thorough snow removal — not money — is the main issue.

It probably will cost millions of dollars.

Hands up, anyone who thinks it would be money wasted.

And a piece of advice to buddy in the tiny car: keep your snowshoes in the trunk until June.

Brian Jones is a desk editor

at The Telegram. He can be reached


Organizations: CBC

Geographic location: Portugal Cove

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Recent comments

  • David Wilson
    March 28, 2014 - 14:17

    It is all a matter of money. All Council needs to do is tack on an additional percentage point to the mil rate and voila, clean sidewalks Montreal would be envious of. Is is not possible to improve service to one activity without causing a decrease in serice to another. Guess the City shouldn't have build The Loop for all to enjoy, the money could have been spent on sidewalk clearing downtown.

  • Thomas
    March 28, 2014 - 12:29

    A very simple solution to the 'drifts from the pond'. Plant a few trees as a wind break and the period of time it takes for the trees to grow install a couple of snow fences. Oh, forgot - the tree huggin crowd down that way would protest lest we brock off a duck crossing path between ponds.

    • david
      March 28, 2014 - 17:14

      This is simply not a "plant a tree" kind of place...that takes some foresight, a measure of patience, an appreciation for the future, some planning, and a sense of resolve to be around to see results. Nope....epic fail on every front.

  • Calvin
    March 28, 2014 - 07:52

    This, like so many other issues, is going to require a complete overhaul at city hall. Electing a new mayor with the same council members isn't going to change a thing. An entire generation of city councillors needs to either retire or die before things change in St. John's. An issue like public safety caused by inadequate snow clearing should not be brushed off year after year. I don't agree with the Telegram editor's on much, but this is one editorial that makes sense.

  • Debbie
    March 28, 2014 - 07:50

    If we have to pay more taxes to have streets and sidewalks cleared properly then so be it. These are basic services like water and sewer. Many people do not have cars and they also have a right to get around this city safely. You try pushing a baby stroller down Merrymeeting Road in winter with a couple of bags of groceries!

  • WTF
    March 28, 2014 - 07:29

    You could have snow clearing equipment on the road 12 months of the year, all you have to do is pay more taxes. In your example you didn't say what road you were on where this guy got stuck but it sounds like a road leading out of town. If so, then obviously the city will take care of roads used by it's citizens before clearing roads used by, as Andy would say, "brown baggers".

  • corner boy
    March 28, 2014 - 06:57

    Brian....agree. Consider this example...You have five plows that adequately clear city streets. Perfect balance. Then you add Kenmount Park, Elizabeth Terrace et el. You don't have to be a MUN professor to realize additional plows will now be required. It's the same for the water bans in summer. Same infastructure, more homes / families requiring water. Council as yet to understand how this mathematically works...more new construction, more resources required. This is basic101.

  • Angus
    March 28, 2014 - 05:31

    Good article. If you are going to live in Newfoundland and Labrador it is a given that there will be winter and with winter comes frost, snow and wind and if you want to continue to live here then the streets must be plowed and if you want the streets plowed then you have to spend money and hence you have to collect taxes