For the first time since 2011, Calgary’s snow and ice control (SNIC) policy will soon be seeing revisions.
On Tuesday, Calgary city council voted unanimously on a notice of motion that would eventually amend the policy allowing city administration to declare a snow emergency and deploy additional snow-clearing resources, an action that only council can do right now.
An amendment from Ward 11 Coun. Peter Demong opens the door for “allowing private volunteers to use their skills and equipment” to support the city’s snow-clearing efforts.
One of the questions asked around the council meeting was about how any increased costs related to clearing snow would be covered.
“I think the real question is for citizens to say what level of service do they want and then matching the budget to that service,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.
The recent snow events between Dec. 21, 2020 and Jan. 3, 2021 that produced 47 centimetres of snow cost the city $4.2 million in clearing-related costs.
Nenshi said an increased service level would “certainly cost money,” but added that some flexibility could be found.
“If Calgarians want to see a different model in big, big storms, we’ve got to figure out how to manage that,” he said.
“What you don’t want to do is, you don’t want to have a whole bunch of equipment and a whole bunch of people sitting around with nothing to do, waiting for it to snow.”
Proposed changes to the SNIC policy will come to city council in June. The policy was last updated in 2011.
“Private volunteers” have not previously been a part of the city’s snow-clearing plan for four reasons: public safety, legislative concerns, environmental concerns and the potential for damage.
“Public safety is our No. 1 concern as equipment operators may relocate snow into large piles that may create hazards for visibility (and) can block catch basins — and minor flooding on thaw-freeze cycles can occur,” said Troy McLeod, director of the city’s roads department.
“Small equipment operations can interfere with public vehicles, commercial vehicles, emergency vehicles and active modes.”
The mayor said those “private volunteers” could bring flexibility into the city’s snow response, but he would like to see some thoughtful guidelines in place.
McLeod said that the city’s existing seven-day snow plan is a cost-effective and efficient way to handle lighter snow.
“When we get significant events, we can’t be in two places at once,” McLeod told council. “And so that is where we need to visit what we would do to respond to an event like we saw (in December) in the future so that we can provide that level of service on significant events.”
McLeod acknowledged the role climate change is having in the city’s plan to clear more than 16,900 kilometres of roads when facing “significant” snow events.
“From an infrastructure perspective and a snow and ice control perspective, it is challenging,” McLeod said. “But in the last three years, we’ve seen three significant snowfall events. The prior one to that in a single day was back in 1998.”
On Sep. 29, 2019, the city was blanketed with 30 centimetres of snow. Oct. 2, 2018 brought 33 centimetres of snow. March 17, 1998 had 39 centimetres, rounding out the trio of snow events comparable to Dec. 21-22, 2020. The infamous “Snowtember” on Sept. 8-10, 2014 only saw 28 centimetres of snow fall on the city.
“So just from those two data points, I would suggest that we are seeing more severe events in the last few years at least,” McLeod said.
A decade ago, city council decided on adding residential roads to the SNIC policy and created a reserve fund.
“The challenge that council had been facing was that, because our weather is so variable and there’s only so much work for folks to do, were we going to increase the budget to a point where we could cover off the worst events?” Nenshi told council Tuesday. “And what happens then if we have a year that didn’t have a lot of snow?”
Council heard that the SNIC reserve currently sits at $2.2 million, with a previous high of $15 million in 2016 following two years of low amounts of snow.