Inclement weather stretching London, Western snow budgets thin

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Pushing snow into a pile with a tractor

Courtesy of Physical Plant

AND YOU THOUGHT THE MONSTER TRUCK RALLY WAS FUN. With Western's campus being covered in snow this week, crews were busy at all hours keeping areas such as Springett Lot, photographed above, clear. Due to the abundance of snow, Western may exceed its snow removal budget this year.

With another snowstorm whipping through London this week, snow removal budgets across the city are strained and workers are frustrated with one of the earliest and heaviest winters in years.

“We haven’t really slowed down since the first of November,” Jim Galbraith, manager of grounds maintenance and waste management at Western, said. “I think everybody else is getting tired of winter too, but we still have six weeks left.”

The headache of snow removal continued outside of Western into London proper, where the city’s snow removal operations went $2.5 million over its $10 million budget in 2008, according to John Parsons, division manager of transportation and roadside operations.

Parsons blamed part of the excess spending on the season’s early start, which began on Oct. 27 when a blizzard ripped branches from trees and prompted a citywide clean-up effort.

The city spent an extra $250,000 of its forestry budget removing the debris, Parsons added.

Frequent smaller storms punctuated with heavy blizzards have required consistent and costly plowing in London since November.

“We had about 360 centimetres of snow in 2008, so that’s about 60 centimetres or two feet more than we usually get,” Parsons said.

At Western, Galbraith explained his department is also expecting to exceed its snow removal budget, which is between $300,000 to $400,000.

“It’s a necessary evil,” he said. “We want a safe campus and in order to do that you’ve got to provide the service.”

In late October, Western diverted its fall clean-up resources to clearing snow and have not had much of a break since, Galbraith said.

Plowing and shovelling Western’s roads, sidewalks and 8,000 parking spaces can also be a 24-hour operation. An on-campus plow waits on standby from January to March, while overnight workers are on-call for blizzards and a day crew begins its work at 4 a.m.

“It’s not uncommon for [a worker to have] anywhere from a 12 to a 14-hour day sometimes with snow,” Galbraith said.

While the university and the city are both spending more than usual on snow removal, Western has received favourable comments on their snow clearing compared to the city, according to Galbraith.

Pat Hunniford, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 741, said the university does a “phenomenal job” with its snow removal but criticized the city’s inconsistent plowing of bus stops and bus bays.

“It’s a problem,” Hunniford said. “We recognize that our customers have issues with it. If you’re driving a car, the city hasn’t done a bad job of plowing the roads this year, but they have a tendency to miss the bus bays.”

London’s snow removal operation works according to a quality standard, created by the city’s transportation authority and approved by city council and London Transit. The standards allow workers several days before clearing bus stops, according to Parsons.

“Roads, sidewalks, bus stops. That’s the priority.”

While these standards can be renegotiated, Parsons warned the current priorities are the “affordable solution.”

“Anything you want do, you can do quicker, but it will cost you more,” he explained.

London may exceed its snow removal budget for the third year in a row if it spends more than $6.2 million of this year’s $10.2 million budget by late March, when winter is expected to end.

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