In the third issue of From the Mayor's Desk, Mayor Mood addresses the topic of nasty winter weather. In particular, how snow clearing works in the Town of Yarmouth.
Up hill both ways: How snow days work
Oh, what fun I had one recent morning as I took a trip down memory lane, landing in a favourite place: as a kid, “working” with dad at Emin’s.
Before I reached counter height, I was a pro at putting up potatoes and bagging penny candy (one for me, one for the bag).
One of my favourite tasks was sweeping the sidewalk in front of the shop. Corn broom in hand, I’d head out front where a peek to my right revealed the other shopkeepers on the block doing the same morning ritual.
We’d wave and I’d smile. I was part of an important team whose collective job was to ensure a clear, clean sidewalk for customers and neighbours.
The best communities still happen via a collective effort. Even the Old West got it right. When someone’s barn burned down, the entire community came together to rebuild. Community looking after community.
There is nothing like a change in “normal” to throw us off our game, though. Mother Nature is an expert at that, regardless the season. The mere mention of the word “storm” has us emptying the shelves of storm chips and clamouring for minute-by minute details of impending weather. Those of us who walked to school (yes, uphill both ways in blistering snowstorms) shake our heads.
It used to take a near apocalyptic snow event to cancel school and Mom and Dad certainly weren’t our personal chauffeurs. No. We put our Butternut bread bags inside our buckled winter boots, “bundled up” and off we went.
Building snow forts in the mid-November to end-of-February snowbanks meant we got home from school late. We walked one foot in front of the other when we went “uptown,” the path that narrow. Streets were plowed but never fully free of packed snow and/or mounds of slush (good for bump-a-riding as long as you didn’t get caught!).
We’ve come a long way on many fronts. Climate change is nothing to celebrate, even if it’s the reason we don’t get nearly the snow we used to. But it has slowly allowed us to forget the way things used to be. How we used to be. The world of instant gratification means we not only expect minute-by-minute weather updates, but the expectations of snow clearing have changed drastically.
Covid has me rethinking everything, and perhaps it’s time to pause and regroup, to rethink our expectations and bring us back to the good neighbour reality we grew up in. I think we miss it!
To get there, facts around how snow clearing works will help. The basics? Our amazing town Public Works Department is responsible for clearing more than 70 kilometres of streets and
55+ kilometres of sidewalks. Did you know that outside town limits, the province takes care of snow removal? Town taxpayers (all towns in Nova Scotia) pay for their own snow removal, staff and equipment and because we pay provincial taxes, are responsible for a portion of snow removal outside town limits as well. It’s important to understand our starting point.
We have limited staff and equipment to get the job done. A breakdown of one piece of equipment or one sick staff person changes everything. And although our staff work long hours in awful and often dangerous conditions, they are also bound by health and safety regulations that allow them to work only a set number of hours each day. Supervisors are up every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day, checking conditions before, during and after the storm. Wow. I so appreciate them. The first to get cleared are our arterial roads which are those that ensure fire, police, ambulance and other first responders have a clear path to hospital, etc. Parking lots for first responders are cleared, and then staff moves on to sidewalks. Any snow that is pushed to the curb as the sidewalks and roads are cleared is removed as quickly as possible. That may take a day, two or more.
Regardless of process, everyone is doing their best.
Can we do better? Always. And we will. But we simply cannot assure people that travelling will be clear with no inconveniences whatsoever. We will be unable to open passenger doors against snowbanks. There may be less parking spaces – both accessible and other. And just as we are advised by Emergency Measures to be 72 hours ready for a storm, we may need an equal amount of time to clear snow. Storms don’t surprise us. They are forecast, and we all need to plan accordingly and expect some level of inconvenience until the work can be completed. Storms demand that.
It’s still important to report things as we see them. Please use SeeClickFix on the town website (you can download the app as well) to report issues or call Public Works. https://townofyarmouth.ca/report-a-problem.html
My sincere hope is that we continue with community helping community. That patience and kindness rule the day. And that those who are able will grab a shovel and help us through the worst of times, keeping safety in mind. It truly is the heart of who we are and what we do.
Stay safe, stay warm and hug a plow driver!