On Dec. 21, 2020, Merritt received 44cm of snow in a 14-hour period – an almost unheard of number in Merritt’s history.
Needless to say, the Public Works team was overwhelmed with clearing efforts. Twelve more centimetres fell over the next week, complicating efforts.
On Tuesday, Merritt CAO Sean Smith released an open letter indicating just how the City plans to address such an issue if and when it arises again.
“Many people have suggested that the amount of snow over the past couple weeks was ‘normal’. That assertion is not correct,” said Smith.
“We fell behind and never caught up. We were not well enough prepared for the snow volumes that we saw and that resulted in poor sideroad and sidewalk conditions. These conditions had negative impacts on the City as a whole, but especially on seniors and those with mobility restrictions. For all of this, I am sorry.”
Smith added that Merritt does not currently budget for the same as communities that annually receive more snowfall.
Merritt’s snow clearing budget is $106,000. Our average snowfall depth in the highest month is 5cm. Comparing that to other communities of roughly the same population: Trail, which has a snow clearing budget of just over half a million, has an average snowfall depth of 31cm. Revelstoke, whose population is almost identical, has a whopping budget that fits its average snow depth of two feet in the highest month.
“These communities all see much more snowfall, snow has a tendency to stick around and they have much larger snow clearing budgets,” said Smith, who added that that doesn’t mean there is something to learn from the more ‘winter communities.’
Smith said that there are two directions the City can go in:
“First, we could ramp up our in-house snow clearing program to be able to better handle this type of extreme situation. Like those communities that deal with this on a yearly basis, we would need to acquire more equipment and hire more staff.”
Second, we can modify the current system so that during events where we simply cannot keep up, we call in support from local contractors to build our snow clearing capacity and provide around the clock service that residents expect, even in adverse conditions.”
Smith said this option will still add cost and is subject to contractor availability.
Jan. 12’s regular council meeting will see councillors debate the topic. It can be watched virtually at www.merritt.ca.