A plow tackles Pelham Street last Monday, Jan. 17. DON RICKERS

Impatience adds stress to already exhausting work by road crews

Sadly, after a big snowfall, it’s not just the roads and driveways of Pelham that get dumped on.

The Town’s road crews and staff, assigned to operate the tractors, backhoes, and plows to shove the weighty white stuff out of the way, routinely take hits on social media, over the telephone, and even in person. Seems that they just can’t remove the snow fast enough to please some folks.

One resident on a Facebook Pelham neighbourhood page, frustrated with the snow-clearing delays, suggested that “maybe it’s time to call in the private contractors, or recruit citizens with plows to help. We need to start looking at alternatives.”

Others fired back at the comment and its perceived sense of entitlement, noting that local contractors with just a pickup truck can’t handle the 50 centimetres of snow that started falling in the early hours last Monday morning. It’s a job for heavy machinery.

In fact, some snow clearing, such as from sidewalks, is already subcontracted by the Town to commercial operators.

Another group member, who said she has operated a snow removal company for 28 years, commented that contractors always look after their client list first, and having worked around the clock, would likely not be in a position to expeditiously assist the Town in an immediate cleanup. She encouraged people needing a plowing service to contact her, so that she could add them to an assigned route for her drivers.

“We are not going to be zig-zagging through town,” she wrote. “We will get to you….be patient. The roads are not even plowed, stores are closed. ITS A PANDEMIC!”

She also mentioned that if residents didn’t move the mound of snow deposited by Town plows at the foot of their driveway, with temperature fluctuations the pile will harden into a block of ice, impossible to remove easily, even with a snowblower or plow.

A cheekily redeployed sign on the Bauer Trail off of Welland Rd., where the going was nothing if not slow. BOB LOBLAW

And forget about a quick $20 clearing of your driveway by a local guy driving a Dodge Ram with a blade attached. It’s more like $100 a pop these days.

One local woman, who requested anonymity, contacted the Voice said that she has family members in Pelham’s Public Works Department who are “very abused” and are tired of “taking all the crap.”

“Some people complain about where the crews park the snow,” she said. “Don’t they understand that the blade pushes snow, and it has to go somewhere? It doesn’t magically disappear into the sky. I can’t believe people are that stupid and nasty.”

Don’t they understand that the blade pushes snow, and it has to go somewhere? It doesn’t magically disappear into the sky.

In some parts of town, neighbours assist neighbours in getting snow moved off the driveways and sidewalks, and even clearing sections of road. They share their snowblowers, and lend a hand with a shovel.

“People in Fonthill who live in homes priced at well over a million dollars can afford to pay a contractor to move their snow, if it’s that much of a priority,” said the woman.

Ryan Cook, Pelham’s Manager of Public Works, told the Voice that, “We had crews out Monday morning about 4 AM. Provincial legislation only allows employees to work for 13 hours, or drive for 12. We try to maximize the number of worker hours, building them into six-to-eight routes designed to take about six hours each. We have six snowplows and three tractors that are outfitted with snow blades, plus a backhoe if we need it. We’re trying to hit the majority of roads. We are a one-shift operation with the ability to put a few trained spare drivers on the roads. Unfortunately, we had a number of guys off sick…kind of the reality of the times. So we were only able to operate the one shift on Monday and Tuesday.”

Operated by the Town’s snow removal contractor, a specialized Holder municipal tractor (price tag $100,000) takes on a Fonthill sidewalk. Clearing required repeated back-and-forth goes at the 50 cm accumulation. BOB LOBLAW

Cook said that all Pelham streets had at least an initial plow by late Tuesday afternoon.

“Wednesday, we went out with two trucks and two tractors doing some cleanups and widening out some areas,” he said. “Monday and Tuesday we put down about 220 tons of sand/salt mix, and 30 tons of pure salt. The pure stuff goes on major roads like Pelham Street, and the mix is for residential neighbourhoods and rural areas.”

The storm last Monday was an anomaly for Niagara. Cook said that they normally expect one storm each winter which drops about a foot of snow.

“The last time we had anywhere near this volume was March of 2008,” he said, “but that was over the course of two or three days. This accumulation only took about 10 hours…it was just overwhelming.”

Cook said that he and his staff did field a lot of angry calls — as many as 150 — early last week. He understands the importance of first responders — doctors, nurses, paramedics, fire and police officers — having access to roadways to get to their jobs.

“A lot of people told us that they needed to get to a doctor’s appointment, or they needed to get to work,” he said. “I think that we’ve been providing really good service related to snow removal in recent years. It’s just when we get anything over a foot that things bog down. Having staff off sick with Covid-related issues complicates things too.”

It’s just when we get anything over a foot that things bog down. Having staff off sick with Covid-related issues complicates things too.

Pelham CAO David Cribbs was quick to jump to the defence of his staff.

“Pelham has at least 562 kilometres of road and 64 kilometres of sidewalk, at last official count,” said Cribbs. “The Town experienced 50 to 60 centimetres of snow in a matter of hours. Pelham deployed 100 percent of its resources last Monday and Tuesday, and continued until the clean-up work was done. All staff worked the maximum number of hours allowed by the Ministry of Labour. This is the same group who came out last year on Christmas morning during a snowstorm. The staff are dedicated, and understand that the community is relying upon them. I couldn’t be more proud of what both Pelham Volunteer Fire Fighters and Pelham Public Works delivered for area residents. I would suggest that we all owe them thanks for a job well done.”

Mayor Marvin Junkin buttressed Cribbs’ comments, saying, “I am very proud of the effort our road crews put in to get the Town’s streets cleared within a day and a half. When compared to other municipalities in southern Ontario, our streets were cleared just as fast, if not faster. Great job, guys!”