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UPDATED: Heated sidewalks in St. John's would cost 20 times more than snowclearing: report

Icy sidewalk.
Icy sidewalk. - 123RF Stock Photo

Coun. Hickman made snow melt system suggestion last year

Last winter, Coun. Sandy Hickman suggested the city consider whether it would be feasible to install heated sidewalks on Water Street.

He suggested making the transition to a snow-melt system when new sidewalks are installed as part of the next phase of sewer upgrades that have been ongoing for a couple of years.

The feasibility report is now posted on the city’s website, and the recommendation from city staff is to not pursue the idea.

Consulting engineers CBCL Ltd. were already hired by the city to provide engineering services for the Water Street Infrastructure Project, so the firm also looked into the feasibility of heated sidewalks during Phase 3, which is set to begin this spring. Phase 3 covers the section of Water Street from Ayre’s Cove to Clift’s Baird’s Cove.

CBCL looked at two technologies to melt snow on sidewalks: electric heat tracing, which involves embedding electric cable in the sidewalk surface, or a hydronic system, which involves installing piping in the sidewalk surface to circulate a heated water and antifreeze mixture.

When Coun. Sandy Hickman suggested the idea of heated sidewalks last winter, he acknowledged he had no idea what it might cost. At the time, he said the cost might “totally preclude this ever happening,” but “we’ve got to start thinking a little bit outside the box.” - SaltWire File Photo
When Coun. Sandy Hickman suggested the idea of heated sidewalks last winter, he acknowledged he had no idea what it might cost. At the time, he said the cost might “totally preclude this ever happening,” but “we’ve got to start thinking a little bit outside the box.” - SaltWire File Photo

The electric option has an estimated upfront cost of $1,538,000 with an annual electric power cost of $69,000. The hydronic option has an estimated upfront cost of $3,475,000 with an annual electric power cost of $70,000.

Those costs would be to install the snow-melting technology only between Ayre’s Cove and Clift’s Baird’s Cove.

Maintenance costs were not included. Also, given uncertainties around future electrical rates, city staff said the annual operating costs could increase “significantly.”

Currently, the total snowclearing cost for that section of Water Street during a winter season is $3,619, taxes included.

“The annual operating costs would be significantly higher than the current contract cost to plow and salt the sidewalk,” reads city staff’s report to council.

The report says excluding the upfront capital cost of a snow-melt system, the annual energy costs to operate the system exceeds the existing contract cost to clear snow from the sidewalk by 20 times.

When Hickman suggested the idea of heated sidewalks last winter, he acknowledged he had no idea what it might cost. At the time, he said the cost might “totally preclude this ever happening,” but “we’ve got to start thinking a little bit outside the box.”

At the regular Monday council meeting this week, Hickman said he’s “still very interested in anything that would enhance the downtown,” but added: “not at all costs, of course.”

He wondered if there are ways around the high cost, such as sharing the cost of operating with downtown vendors. He said downtown businesses would save on cleaning costs because salt wouldn’t be tramped into the shops, plus consumers would be more confident in shopping downtown during winter months.

“My main issue with this was we should be looking at new and innovative ways of supporting people in the city.…There’s all kinds of unique ideas that people need to think about. I’m asking. Bring ‘em on. Any new ideas, let’s hear ‘em.

“But in this case, the review is that it’s too expensive, and that’s the way it’ll have to stand for now. But some proponent, maybe a private company, may look forward to doing this on a smaller scale, you never know.”

The Telegram asked Mayor Danny Breen what it cost the city to prepare the report on heated sidewalks. He said there was no extra cost to the city to prepare the report because it was done internally. 

Council is scheduled to discuss the report at a committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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