The prolonged cold weather we experienced during the Christmas holidays is a reminder of the kinds of winters we used to get in the Cariboo. Prior to the turn of the century, these long cold snaps were one of nature’s main control mechanisms for things like the mountain pine beetle or the winter ticks that are now infesting moose and other wildlife.
Significant amounts of snow was also a feature of winter’s past, although it used to build up over time as opposed to the “snow bombs” we now get over 24 or 48 hours. Ice jams on the Fraser and Quesnel Rivers were also a regular occurrence.
In the past, consistent below zero temperatures and “cold snow” accumulation over time made winter road maintenance a lot easier than it can prove to be today. Frozen road surfaces are easier to clear of snow and sand for traction than roads that heat up above zero during the day and then freeze at night.
Dry, “cold” snow is a lot easier to clear from sidewalks and roads than wet, compacting snow and ice. However, significant accumulation of any kind of snow over 24 or 48 hours can delay City crews and contractors from getting to secondary roads, side roads, and laneways, as equipment has to be consistently deployed to the priority roads to keep them open. The City has a clear policy for the prioritization of road clearance available on its website (www.quesnel.ca/snow).
The change in winter’s weather patterns has resulted in significant increases in snow clearing costs for all northern cities, and Quesnel is no exception. Over the past 5 years, the average snow removal budget for the City has exceeded $1 million/year with a high of $1.33 million in 2019. In 2021, 6.4% of the City’s general operating costs were budgeted for snow removal, amounting to 7.8% of municipal taxes collected last year (about $83/$100,000 of assessment).
Snow costs are a major vulnerability in our annual budgeting process, as we can never predict the actual costs for any given year. The City’s policy for snow removal gives our City staff the ability to maintain our roads, sidewalks, and the riverfront trail to the high standards that citizens and ratepayers have come to expect, even if it means going over the budgeted amount for that year.
In order to address the unpredictability of the actual snow removal costs in any given year, Council has embedded a snow reserve levy in our annual taxation. This levy is intended to help us establish a cash reserve to buffer any snow removal overages in any given year. If we have a year when snow removal costs are under the budgeted amount that surplus also goes directly to the snow reserve.
Council has consistently taken the position that snow removal must be maintained to a high standard in order to make our City safe for winter travel; both vehicular and pedestrian. Last year approval was given to purchase a new piece of equipment to better maintain the Riverfront Trail system so people can safely use this trail in the winter. We also continue to fund the end of driveway clearing program as we believe this is an important service to our community, especially for our seniors.
While Quesnel has one of the best snow removal programs in the North, the onus for winter safety on our roads, sidewalks, and trails is still on drivers and pedestrians. We all need to exercise common sense and move about in the winter in accordance with the conditions at the time.