Crews put in a lot of overtime to keep the roads clear this winter, said Mike Philip of Lakes District Maintenance. (Lakes District News file photo)

Crews put in a lot of overtime to keep the roads clear this winter, said Mike Philip of Lakes District Maintenance. (Lakes District News file photo)

Snowy winter meant high costs: LDM

Rapid melting could cause floods

The snowiest winter in recent memory was full of challenges for Lakes District Maintenance (LDM), the company responsible for snow-removal on major roads and highways in the region. And now the change of season could mean flooding if heaps of snow melt more rapidly than usual.

That’s the assessment of Mike Philip, LDM’s quality assurance and planning manager.

In an interview with Houston Today, Philip said the biggest issue for LDM was finding a place to put the mounds of snow.

Accumulated snow on the shoulders made it harder for trucks to plow the stuff, since there’s nowhere for it to go.

This meant that the Burns Lake-based company had to use graders, vehicles that are normally used for flattening the surface of roads during construction. “To push the shoulders back, you have to use the graders,” said Philip.

When employed for snow removal, graders use a board to push snow towards a so-called “wing” on the side of the vehicle, which shoves the snow off to the right-hand side at an angle.

Graders are commonly used for snow removal, but this year was different because every road had to be “winged back,” said Philip — often requiring multiple passes. And graders are slower than trucks. That meant lots of hours on the road for LDM’s crews.

This was the first winter that Philip had spent in northern B.C. — he previously lived in southern Alberta — but most people told him that it was the worst winters in years, if not decades.

The past season was also notable because the snowfall was practically constant, he said. Normal years usually involve breaks of a few weeks at a time. “It just went from November until, well, last week,” he said during the April 11 interview.

That meant a lot of overtime for workers at LDM, said Philip, who praised the performance of snow-removal workers throughout the season. “The guys and girls really stepped it up,” he said.

But he wouldn’t disclose any figures about hours, equipment or the number of employees at LDM, citing trade secrecy during the competitive bidding process currently underway.

On the cost of fuel during the snowy winter, Philip would only say “it was definitely high.”

Maintenance contracts in B.C. are paid in an annual lump sum, said Philip, meaning that big snowfalls cut into the bottom-line of contractors like LDM.

“The more it snows, the more it costs,” he said. But companies tend to factor the fluctuations of winter weather into their budgets, he said.

Now that winter finally appears to be over, there’s a risk that snow accumulation in ditches will change the course of the meltwater. Plugged-up ditches and culverts could also lead to flooding, especially if there’s a fast melt.

The rate of melting is fine for now, but a sudden spike in temperatures coupled with rainfall could mean trouble, said Philip. And sandbags are at the ready. “We hope for the best but we prepare for the worst,” he said.