Woolwich pledges to do better when clearing snow

The snow has gone, but the complaints linger as Woolwich carries out a post-mortem on the snow-clearing job done by township road crews and, in Elmira, the contractor that looks after the sidewalks.

Acknowledging issues, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley pledged improvements next winter.

“I can guarantee that things will be better next year,” he told councillors meeting May 1. “It won’t be perfect, but we’ll address complaints as quickly as possible.”

As has been the case this year, Kennaley was pressed by Coun. Patrick Merlihan, who has fielded numerous complaints from residents, particularly in Elmira.

Reacting to a report prepared by Kennaley, Merlihan said the document he called “underwhelming, was long on excuses and short on solutions.

“It gives me little hope that it’s going to get better next year,” said Merlihan of the staff report, noting crews need simply show up and do the job right to reduce the number of complaints.

“I don’t think the expectations of the public are that demanding.”

Pointing to a marked decline in the last two years, he added the service used to be better, indicating some changes could make it good again.

Reiterating some of the arguments in the report, Kennaley noted that the retirement of some veteran plow operators left the township with some inexperienced crew members. Coupled with some lack of clarity about process – specifically, about leaving snow on the road to form windrows that prevent snow from road plows being thrown back on to sidewalks – the new operators posed a real challenge.

The same was true of some of the weather conditions, including last month’s ice storm, he added.

With better training and a coordinated strategy, the service will improve next winter, he said.

Merlihan’s fellow Ward 1 representative, Coun. Julie-Anne Herteis, suggested the township needs to do a better job of ensuring catch basins aren’t filled with snow, causing what’s known as ponding on some roads.

Kennaley’s report got a more sympathetic response from Coun. Mark Bauman, who noted he found service in St. Jacobs to be fine, adding winter conditions are a fact of life here.

“We live in Canada and winter events are unpredictable,” he noted, pointing out that snow isn’t convenient.

“I think we expect too much of both the plow operators and the sidewalk snow-clearing contractors.”

Discussing the sidewalk contract in Elmira, Kennaley said coordinating the work – avoiding having road plows pass after the sidewalks had been cleared on a particular street – was not a viable option. The different start times, pace of the equipment and volumes of snow over the course of unpredictable hours made coordination unworkable. Instead, having both parties use techniques to avoid simply pushing the snow back into the path of each other would go a long way to solve the problem.

In December, Woolwich granted a two-year extension to its sidewalk snow-clearing contractor, Mitchell Property Maintenance.

The township budgets $70,000 a year for the service, but the actual amount charged depends on the rolling surplus of funds in the account. Funded by a special levy applied to Elmira properties, the service costs each homeowner about $18 a year.

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