Monday, February 9, 2009

Haldimand "I know People are Getting Stuck and We Hope they will Get Home"

Standards, snow and cash factor into snow plow response
Feb 6, 2009

Snow blows across the road as Ted Pitcher heads out to work but his trip is cut short when he finds his route off Lakeshore Road is clogged with snow.

When he is asked when that happened, he stops to think. There's been so many mornings like that, he says.

One day, he tried to drive up the Hald-Dunn Townline but it was so badly blown in that a car and a school bus was stuck half way up the road. The two drivers were waiting for a plow and a tow truck. Pitcher turned around and fought his way back to his Lakeshore Road home and then waited a plow to go by. It was just another day where snow made him late getting to work in Stoney Creek.

Once he got stuck and couldn't move and even a tow truck would not venture out to help.

Eventually someone on an ATV arrived and taxied him home. Pitcher says he went back to his pick up truck the next morning and found a police officer, who could not drive his cruiser down the road, walking to investigate his abandoned vehicle.

In the wee hours of Jan. 30, a Chronicle rural delivery agent finds himself captive in a drift. For almost seven hours he is stranded. People stop to check on him and to see if they can help but this is obviously a job for a plow or a tow truck.

"I know they are fighting against the wind blowing snow off fields," says Pitcher. "One time it was 24 hours before a plow drove down Lakeshore Road.

Now, like a Boy Scout, he is prepared. He has extra gloves, pants and a shirt in his truck just in case.

Pitcher's experiences are the result of a blustery winter season, minimum standards for snow and ice removal, legislated limits to workers' hours in trucks and limited county finances.

Wray Oakes has received numerous complaints over the past three months due to drifting and blowing snow. As the county's road operations manager, he is the person overseeing snow and ice removal.

"It's been a long winter," he says.

In 2003, before he was working in the municipality, county council adopted minimum standards for addressing winter road conditions.

"Minimum standards help municipalities set standards in defence of liability. They are tested in court," explains Oakes.

The legislated standards were set by the Ontario government at the request of municipalities facing snow-related lawsuits.

The standards are based on depth of snow, response time and road class.

Operations staff assess the road network, establish classes and design a snow removal system that adheres to standards, he says. Under the county's policy which exceeds provincial standards, not every road will be taken to bare or centre bare conditions.

A 90 per cent sand and 10 per cent salt mixture is applied to improve traction on Class 4 and 5 roads, which include almost every Dunnville street. The goal is to take roads to centre bare or track bare conditions.

Class 5 roads and streets have a 50km speed limit and between 200 and 999 cars travelling on it every day. Within 16 hours of icy conditions, Class 5 streets must be treated. Response time is measured from the end of the storm.

Class 2 roads are Haldimand Road 54 and Highway 56 and connecting links including Highway 3 through Dunnville and Highway 6 through Jarvis and Caledonia.

Four years after standards were set, the Ontario government amended the Highway Traffic Act to set limits on how long a person can drive a truck.

County plow drivers are scheduled accordingly. They are on the road at 4:30 a. m. and drive back into public works yards by 5 or 6 p. m. Workers who start later drive until 7 p. m.

In the evening or past midnight, the county is not servicing roads due to minimum service levels and the inability of staff to respond due to limits on working hours, notes Oakes.

People are surprised to hear this because they expect plowing when roads are snowy, he adds.

Over the years, a number of changes were made by the county in an attempt to bring plowing into compliance with Ontario law.

In Nov. 2007, council approved spending $170,000 to hire part time drivers for six months. At that time, Oakes warned council that without adding personnel, the county faced fines for failing to meet working hour limits for drivers.

Last October, council agreed to spending $103,000 for wages for temporary fulltime plow drivers for the remainder of 2008. A sum of $180,000 was to be added to the 2009 budget to cover remaining winter control costs for this season.

In his 2008 report, Oakes stated that three workers were deployed in the four county districts but even with this extra help, the county could not provide 100 per cent of its services for about six per cent of the season.

Main arterial roads such as Haldimand Roads 17 and 54 are maintained by contractors as necessary but roads categorized in levels 4, 5 and 6 are not. Traffic volume is a key factor in service levels.

"Our guys have been fantastic working day after day for extended hours," says Oakes.

They are assigned to specific routes. With a run from Selkirk to the Hald-Dunn Townline taking five hours, the plow might not arrive in South Cayuga until mid-morning, he adds.

In extreme conditions, visibility becomes a problem so plough drivers travel very slowly which adds to delays in operations, says Oakes.

Like Oakes, Don Ricker's phone has been ringing a lot this winter because he is the Haldimand County councillor representing people living along the lake from Mohawk Point to the Hald-Dunn Townline.

Ninety per cent of the lake is frozen so that makes a huge difference with blowing snow, he says. So much snow lands the roadways that there isn't room to pile it. After storms, county crews move piles from one side of the road to the other in an attempt to reduce drifting, he adds.

This winter, the county has deployed as much manpower and equipment as possible. Ricker says graders, back hoes and all available plows have been on the roads making them safe for people on their way to work or on their way home.

Ricker knows people want to see plows out moving snow and salting roads at all hours but it's not possible. Limits are set for municipal employees and hiring numerous contractors is expensive.

"We can't afford to put trucks on the road 24/7," says Ricker. "I know people are getting stuck and we hope they will get home."

Even so, some public works employees are available on an on-call basis. In the case of an emergency and access blocked to paramedics, firefighters or police officers, a plow driver is called out to clear the way to the emergency, says Ricker. This protocol has been used this winter, he adds.

Some of the responsibility falls on residents who decide when and where they want to go, points out Ricker.

"It's been a long time since we had a winter like this," he says. "It's been non-stop since November."

And it will be an expensive winter. Ricker believes expenses will exceed levels set in the county's winter control budget.

People realize this is a winter like one the county has not experienced in many years, says Coun. Buck Sloat.

Drawing on his knowledge as a member of the Haldimand County Hydro board, Sloat points out that the local hydro utility has the second highest kilometres of wires in Ontario. That relates to the quantity of roads so it's difficult to clear snow in a large geographic area, he added.

Article ID# 1422689


  1. My two cents for what it is worth!

    "In the evening or past midnight, the county is not servicing roads due to minimum service levels and the inability of staff to respond due to limits on working hours, notes Oakes.

    People are surprised to hear this because they expect plowing when roads are snowy, he adds"

    Well that says it all, we get the wind mostly in the evening, and some do have to go to work at 5:00 am, no wonder the roads are so bad!

    "We can't afford to put trucks on the road 24/7," says Ricker. "I know people are getting stuck and we hope they will get home."

    There you have it, a Council member that is fully aware that people are getting stuck, and they are still keeping us at a minimum standard? Should we all be sending our towing bills to the County? Should we be asking for a reduction in our household taxes? What is wrong with these guys? Time to replace a few don't you think?

    "In the case of an emergency and access blocked to paramedics, firefighters or police officers, a plow driver is called out to clear the way to the emergency, says Ricker"

    This is absurd! On Call? So how long do you think it would take for one of these "on call" drivers to get to the emergency and then plow them in? My God!

    "Some of the responsibility falls on residents who decide when and where they want to go, points out Ricker"

    Well this is the obvious answer, for those of you that need to get to work on time or get there at all, you need to decide how important it is to you. It seems that this council member has the same mentality as the Mayor!

    Rick,a very concerned resident!

  2. I have to tell you Donna that you are wasting your time! Nothing will be accomplished by what you are doing, so give it up and let these council members do their jobs. Do you really want an increase in your tax bill so that your Lakeshore Road will be plowed? Is it worth that much to you? You are sounding like a broken record, whine, whine, whine, that is all you do.

  3. We choose to live where we do mainly based on the pleasure we believe we will get from living there. In doing so we often overlook what some of the negative factors may be. I have known people who build a new home in the country and move there from the city only to find that they can't put up with the smell of the farm next door and then complain that the farmer should be made to do something to stop that smell. This is no different. People move from the city to a lakeshore home to enjoy the beauty of the summer months but seldom think about what winter conditions may do to their lifestyle. Then they start screaming about being underserviced and how unfair it is to not get everything they want. Boo hoo! In life we have to learn to take the good with the bad, that is what creates balance. There may be times when life feels below standards to you. If the good times don't balance or outweigh the difficult ones, perhaps you should consider moving. Then again, maybe you should just be grateful for all of the blessings you do receive.

  4. I can't believe that people are criticizing Donna when she is bringing to light all the shortfalls and inconsistencies that this almost 9 year old county has shoved in all of our faces. Isn't it refreshing to know the truth about why roads in other municipalities are kept so much better than ours. The people commenting obviously are not commuters like the rest of us who make our living outside of the county (because there is no work here)and bring our wages back to the municipality of Haldimand and spend our money here. It is also no ones business where people live in our community. Obviously someone in planning has thought it was a good idea for people to live on Lakeshore in permanent residences. Donna and Ted are not squatters and they pay the same taxes as anyone else, why are they not allowed the same basic services. If you begin by cutting out all the dead wood and the high salaried employees in our two ivory towers we would have the money needed to pay for the essentials in our community. We need a complete re-organization of our county to make it run more efficiently. 41,000 people in Haldimand can't pretend that they have a sustainable government when essential services have gone down the tubes. FYI - It is easy to read who the councillor is that makes comments on this blog. It's alright. We need your input as well. DONNA....KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. I like being informed of the inner workings of our County.

  5. Why didn't Haldimand just like other rural areas plant trees along the roads years ago to prepare for cyclical climate changes? Just asking? And
    shouldn't Haldimand be preparing in the summer for winter instead of the winter? Emergency planning? Snow removal with a schedule so that persons on back roads know that the main roads will be plowed every (fill in the blank
    the time) back roads every (fill in the blank the time) Etc But as the first responder said they prefer not to pay taxes, but also elect persons who are surprised it snows in Haldimand.... just asking for some higher level input than blaming persons for moving here and help to help expand the Haldimand tax base. This a great place to live and let us find solutions, because blaming does not help solve anything. We are all stuck in the snow together and let's not lose what makes Haldimand a great place, the very good things that neighbours do. The ATV driver for example, Donna who keeps us informed
    etc too many to mention...Haldimand is a community of persons with a history
    of helping their neighbours.

  6. For the poster that talks about the good people of Lakeshore road moving there just for the summer months? For your information, Lakeshore Road residents have always lived there on a permanent basis. Farmers and familys alike are not asking for anything that they don't already deserve. The school bus drives down Lakeshore Road everyday picking up the children to go to local schools that they cannot walk to. The next thing this poster will be asking for is that the bus be cancelled and all that want to live on Lakeshore Road can drive their kids to school, or how about the people of Lakeshore Road can take their own garbage to the dump? Get a grip, we who live in Permanent Residential/Agricultal zoned homes deserve the same treatment as all other tax payers in the county!

  7. Donna I live in Hamilton and have been a faithful reader of your blog from the beginning. I have heard it all as of today. What is with the comments from your councillors and some of the readers of your blog? It looks like Haldimand is not a very friendly place to live. Your Councillor Ricker needs to listen to the people, not admit that there is a problem and then do nothing to correct it. Haldimand Counil members seem to be out of touch with the people.

  8. Thanks for your comments.

    I would like to address some of the comments above.

    First I would like to say that on the most part Haldimand County is a great place to live, and a friendly place to live. The people of Haldimand are very passionate and get involved in the issues of the day. Some topics that I post are what I call "hot topics" and people do get very emotional.

    I have never complained about anything that our "tax" dollars should be paying for!

    I also wonder what some of our council members are thinking when they make comments to the press. You can tell that they are out of touch!

    I believe that if our council members were in touch with the residents, their comments would be much different, not so defensive in nature.

    Mayor Trainer's campaign was all about being the "peoples mayor", yet she has to date not had one town hall meeting. I know for a fact that Councillor Sloat promised Ward 2 residents that he would also have "town hall" meetings, yet to date he has not had one.

    It seems that people get upset when our council members make decisions without listening to us, should they get upset? My answer to this one is easy. On a day to day basis council members should go ahead with business, that is what we elected them for. But when it comes to the big decisions, they do need to inform and listen to the people, how? Town Hall Meetings!