Mission plows through $1 million in record snow year

Newly named Snowbi Wan Kenobi plow casualty of snowy winter

Mission has officially had its first million-dollar snow year.

And though that’s not necessarily a good thing, the work of snow-clearing crews recently drew raves, as did a new strategy that has seen the city eschew sand in some neighbourhoods.

There was a time, only seven years ago, when Mission rarely spent more than $400,000 clearing its roads. Those days are long gone now.

In the 2022 calendar year, the city spent a record $1.1 million on snow clearing. That was partly a function of a snowy start to the calendar year. But it was also tied to an incredibly cold December that included snow storms and persistently cold temperatures.

Other municipalities also reported high snow spending: Chilliwack spent more than $3.3 million. Its spending has increased each of the past five years, doubling since 2018.

The weather was such that the city blew through its seasonal salt allotment

before the end of December.

That, council was told Monday, left the city on the brink of some very, very slippery streets.

“It got pretty close to where we almost ran out of salt and that could have been a real catastrophe,” roads manager Dylan Stewart said.

Salt before sand

The city buys 700 tons for each winter, but that was nowhere near enough this year. And with other municipalities contracted to buy far more, Mission was left facing a situation where, if the supplier ran low on salt, it would be at the back of a line for refills.

Fortunately for drivers, that didn’t happen, and staff is now hoping to increase the city’s contracted allotment.

Mission has tweaked how it clears snow recently, and the results were applauded by city councillors and (those councillors say) residents.

Notably, the city has stopped spreading both salt and sand on many residential streets. Instead, they have been using only salt on such streets.

That, Stewart said, has left the roads and its users in much better shape over the winter.

“It just works so much better,” Stewart said. “I really could see it. From an aesthetic and safety standpoint for the community, anybody riding a bike down the road they’re not going to have a sand issue.”

He said the change should also save the city more than $100,000 because it won’t have to clean up as much sand as the winter concludes.

The city also ramped up snow-clearing efforts as soon as it started sticking to the ground, even if that was during the night. Previously, Mission would have had only a single four-man night crew working overnight to clear roads.

“Now, if it’s snowing, we have our full complement of staff out doing the job,” he said. Couns. Mark Davies and Danny Plecas praised the better results this year.

Stewart hailed the crews that had to deal with all of December’s white stuff.

“Many of them were already on vacation and on holidays to spend time with family and friends and instead they were working 12-hour night shifts right up until Christmas Eve making a big sacrifice.”

Keeping sidewalks clean is another matter—especially for those who can’t physically shovel their own paths.

Angels hard to find

About a year ago, the city spoke to local non-profits to see if any would be able to start a Snow Angels program to provide shovelling services to those who need help. But those organizations said they couldn’t help, with there already a shortage of volunteers.

While the city sought out volunteers this winter and got some help on an ad hoc basis, staff say the approach wasn’t ideal given the volunteers weren’t properly vetted.

The city is now going to explore ways to create a fee-for-service program, in which it could hire an organization to do the job. The organization, then, could hire workers.

Aside from the city budget, there was one other snow-related casualty: Snowbi Wan Kenobi.

This year, the city held a contest to name its 13 snowplows. Residents delivered with nearly 100 suggestions. Snowbie Wan Kenobi was one of those chosen, but was damaged in an accident in late March (no one was injured in the crash.)

“The force wasn’t with it,” Mayor Paul Horn said.

Soon, Kenobi and the other slushy dozen might have more company, with Mission considering buying two new plows.

That would require two new names. Luckily, staffers will have plenty of suggestions left over to choose from.

We asked the city for the full list of suggestions. You can find them below.

We’d like to see Mr. Plow and Plow King face off for real. But Edward Blizzardhands might be among the best. (The keen-eyed will spot two suggested names based on Mission politicians: Pam De-Alexicer and Jag Gillacier.)

Join the conversation

or to participate.