Snow-covered roads in the small Similkameen communities of Tulameen and Coalmont are now passable after a December snowstorm isolated the towns for several days earlier this month.
George Mapson, who has lived in Tulameen — about 26 kilometres northwest of Princeton — for more than 50 years, said he was concerned about public safety and emergency access.
Frustration mounted against the region’s new road maintenance contractor, AIM Roads, due to the lack of snow removal services in the immediate days following the major blizzard.
The closest weather station at the Princeton airport recorded at least 40 centimetres of snowfall over a four-day period between Dec. 19 and Dec. 22, according to Environment Canada. However residents in Tulameen said at least 60 centimetres fell within the tiny community, leaving many roads impassable.
“The snow storm was big for what we are used to and the road maintenance, I think they did their best, they’re new and they were caught off guard,” said Coalmont resident Mike MacDonald.
In a post on its Facebook page, AIM Roads blamed the lack of snow removal services on equipment failures, acknowledging two graders broke down, one with a major and unexpected failure.
“We sourced a subcontracted grader, brought in additional resources and the crews are continuing to work around the clock,” the company said in the statement issued Dec. 24.
Mapson said the company was ill-prepared to respond.
“There was no backup equipment and they could’ve contracted with the logging companies who have graders to grade the roads, but no, they didn’t do anything,” he said.
Mapson added that the communities banded together to take care of themselves.
“It’s only because of the people in town who have excavators and back hoes that they’re able to plow some of the small roads into people’s homes and without them, they would have been totally impassable for four days, which is really bad for an emergency,” he said.
MacDonald said most year-round residents are used to major weather events impacting the remote areas and are prepared for all road conditions.
“It was doable if you had the right vehicle and the right tires so it’s not anything that was really unusual, it was just a real big dump of snow in a short period of time,” he said.
However, Tulameen volunteer fire chief Jody Woodford said on Facebook that she made the road maintenance company “aware of the safety risks for the area,” due to the unplowed roads.
BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said operations were not affected by the substantial snowfall event and all ambulances are prepared to drive in winter conditions, equipped with chains.
“Winter conditions can make it difficult; however, we continue to navigate snowy and icy roads across the province as safely as possible,” spokesperson Sarah Morris said in a statement issued to Global News.
“In this particular instance, additional resources were not required and the roads were cleared with no impact on our response time or service.”
In March, the Spanish conglomerate with a Canadian division was awarded two highway maintenance contracts for the Okanagan.
Acciona says on its website that it operates in infrastructure and energy sectors worldwide.
The Ministry of Transportation said both contracts were awarded through an open bidding process and have a 10-year term with an optional five-year extension.
The Ministry said it will continue to work with AIM Roads “to ensure contract specifications and operational priorities are being met and that resources are appropriately prioritized during extreme weather events.”
With another 10-20 centimetres of snowfall in the forecast, the Ministry said staff will be out monitoring conditions and contractor performance.