New technique of snow removal in Smiths Falls has growing pains

The Town of Smiths Falls is reminding residents to keep the snow cleared from fire hydrants. – Laurie Weir photo

Residents of Smiths Falls are asked to be patient while town staff is removing snow after more than 30 cm was dumped throughout the Ottawa Valley over the weekend.

In his report to Smiths Falls council on Jan. 15, Paul McMunn, director of public works, said they’re still dealing with sidewalks as of Monday.

“We did issue a significant weather event statement on Saturday (Jan. 13), that would have commenced on Friday, Jan. 12 at approximately 11 p.m. when we started to experience heavier snowfall and high winds,” McMunn said.

The declaration puts all the winter operations on hold until staff can respond to the event, “until we can get things back to our normal levels of service,” he explained.

McMunn said he reported to work on Monday and toured the streets, “which looked pretty good. Sidewalks, however, are always the challenge, trying to get (them) opened and cleared for safe passage by pedestrians.”

McMunn said that was the primary reason for issuing the significant weather event statement.

“We did have operations staff (13 in total) in all weekend responding to the storm and we do continue with the day and night shift,” he said.

The two shifts are new from what the town staff previously worked – a day shift only, McMunn explained.

“We have split them up into two crews, and that seems to be fairly effective,” he said, as they expected to have all the sidewalks cleared by the end of day Wednesday, “at the very latest.

“That may seem like a tremendous amount of time, but that’s how long it takes. We have three sidewalk machines … it takes a lot more time to blow snow than it does to push snow, especially with the amount that we’ve had over the course of the weekend.”

McMunn said he was aware of the significant number of emails and phone calls, Facebook posts, and other social media posts with concerns about the changes in operations.

“What we’re doing operationally is no different than any other municipality in their winter control response,” he said. “I would say that the way we had done things in the past [was] atypical. It would appear that it was effective, however, my concern was that we were taking all the snow from the road and the sidewalk and redepositing it in the front lawns, and in some cases, very close to properties on streets that didn’t have much right-of-way left in the boulevards … I was worried about property damage and liability for the town.”

That is why they shifted operations to be consistent with other municipalities, he noted.

Smiths Falls director of public works Paul McMunn shares a snow removal report with council on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. – Laurie Weir/Screengrab


Coun. Chris McGuire asked what types of things were being measured to determine if this way of operations was successful.

McMunn said they should stay the course through the winter and re-evaluate.

“I wouldn’t use resident feedback as a measurement for our success or failure because it is a new system,” McMunn said, as most municipalities gutter their snow (accumulate the snow in the gutter and clear out the catch basins), as opposed to storing all that snow in front yards.

As staff gets caught up to sidewalk clearing, they will switch to snow clearing in some residential areas as the streets are narrowing.

“We’ve always done that historically,” McMunn said, and this year will require more snow removal than has been done in the past.

McGuire said he’s not confident that they can make it to the end of the winter, because after the streets were cleared, rain collected and then the sidewalks were icy. “It was like a skating rink up and down the sidewalk,” he said.

“I can’t go anywhere around town without people complaining about the new system.”
McGuire said they had a good system, and they may need to revisit the metrics sooner rather than later.

Mayor Shawn Pankow said this seems to be a short-term pain for long-term gain situation. “We’re storing the snow, but we’re taking more of it away,” Pankow said.

Shifts are extended to cover those periods where there is no one on duty, McMunn explained, as overtime is offered when needed.

McMunn said he’d like to ask the residents to give them time to adjust while they remove snow and clear sidewalks, with the expectation that significant snow events such as this will need time to clear.

Coun. Dawn Quinn said if they don’t look at new techniques, then they will never know if it’s going to work, “and it’s going to take a little while to get it figured out.”

Coun. Jennifer Miller said this is one time that she wouldn’t mind Smiths Falls not being like a surrounding municipality as she worked in one and it was not the same standard of snow removal as Smiths Falls had in the past.

“I’d love the chance for us to review this in 30 days to get an update from (McCann) on how it’s working,” Miller said.

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