It’s been a bumpy start to the winter season for the Okanagan’s newest highway maintenance contractor, and it says abuse and threats are being hurled towards call centre employees.
AIM Roads contract manager Greg Ehman said staff at the communications centre based in Penticton, B.C., track calls for both service areas: South Okanagan and Okanagan-Shuswap.
“Over the past week or so, there has been some incredibly abusive, threatening calls into those areas,” Ehman said on Sunday.
“Those staff are working really hard to collect the public’s information, ensure that it’s tracked, send it out to the supervisors in the field to be able to make the best decision on how to action those items, so they certainly don’t need to be abused or threatened, particularly with vulgar language,” he said.
It is the first winter season with ACCIONA Infrastructure Maintenance (AIM Roads) at the helm of snow removal services on major arterial routes in the Okanagan Valley.
Growing pains combined with a barrage of relentless snow storms has caused challenges for the private road maintenance contractor.
“Some of the challenges have been some of the new equipment and adapting to some of the changes with the contract, increased use of chemicals in order to meet the maintenance specifications, but overall it’s just been a phenomenal amount of snow,” Ehman said.
“We haven’t had this volume of snowfall in such a short period of time in many, many years.”
In early January, AIM Roads apologized for missing some roads in the North Okanagan as crews were re-deployed to assist BC Hydro during significant power outages.
In mid-December, the company also asked for patience as residents in the small Similkameen communities of Tulameen and Coalmont lamented the lack of snow clearing, which the contractor blamed on equipment failures.
As another snow storm pummels the Okanagan Valley on Sunday, Ehman said it’s all hands on deck.
“We’ve been throwing everything we can at it, we’ve obviously been working hard, the crews have been going around the clock,” he said.
Ehman said the North Shuswap has been hardest hit, receiving over 100 centimetres of snow since Dec. 20. Snow pack data shows 117 per cent of annual snow volume.
“It’s been challenging, you just get through one cycle, you’re trying to plow everything off, the highways are our priority, get them back to bare pavement before you’re hit again,” he said.
Ehman said additional resources are being deployed.
“We have our core crews that are running 24 hours per day, seven days per week, we supplement that with overtime as required, and then we have a list of sub-contractors that we bring on board,” he said.
Ehman encourages drivers to be informed of current conditions before they brave the roads.
“I think the biggest thing is to know before you go. Check DriveBC, check our website, check our advisories, identify if you can alter your plans at all to go at a slightly different time,” he said.
Ehman is asking commuters to pack their patience and be respectful of staff when contacting the communications centre to flag unplowed roads.
“It was really unfortunate that it stooped to that level, so we felt the need to remind the public about our expectations,” he said.
ACCIONA Infrastructure Canada has prior experience managing road operations and maintenance for the Autoroute 30 in Quebec, the Herb Gray Parkway in Ontario and the South East Stoney Trail in Alberta, according to its website.
Globally, ACCIONA says it has more than 20 years of experience managing multiple road maintenance contracts.
The BC Ministry of Transportation said both Okanagan contracts were awarded through an open bidding process and have a 10-year term with an optional five-year extension.