LAC LA BICHE - Next winter, Lac La Biche County crews are expected to be providing sidewalk snow clearing along Lac La Biche's Main Street. The county's Chief Administrative Officer Ken Van Buul says the service, which is still in the preliminary stages of operations and costs, is expected to manage the current sidewalks along with the downtown core.
The new plan will roll-out in what will be the first winter season following the planned downtown makeover of underground utilities, sidewalks, curbs and gutters starting next year.
“As we move forward with whatever those sidewalks look like on Main Street, there is some concern that we are adding to the workload on the businesses for something that’s a benefit to the entire community,” said Van Buul.
Last Spring, while they were discussing the new streetscape plans, municipal councillors began discussing ways to better support the downtown business area.
“One of the things that council asked administration to do is take a look at what we can do and what that cost might be. What administration is asking—I guess right now—is we have a couple of different models we want to look at. We want to bring back something that’s a little more robust for council to decide,” said Van Buul.
Decisions surrounding how and when the snow removal services will operate throughout the winter season, if the services will be contracted or if county employees will remove the snow, are plans that administration will present in the new year in order to prepare for the rollout next winter, he said — last Tuesday during a significant all-day snowstorm that dropped several centimeters of new snow.
“The other questions that need to be answered is, on a day like today—where you might have to remove snow at 7 a.m., but it continues to snow throughout the day—who’s responsibility is it to do the snow removal during the day? Or does it just pile up and go forward? The bottom line is we got a little bit more work to do on that.”
Under the Community Standards Safety Bylaw, the removal of snow and ice must be removed within 72 hours by the property owners along any major highways in Lac La Biche County.
However, with the new addition of the county taking on some of the snow removal services during the winter season, amendments are required, said Van Buul.
“If it’s not the responsibility of the landowner or store owner anymore, we’ve got a bylaw that has to change. We also have to figure out what model we are going to use. Is that going to be an in-house type service that we provide—with our own crews or something that we’re going contract out to a service provider—so that we can time it.”
The discussions required for the service also have to consider any liabilities of injuries that might happen to staff and equipment during the process, he said, but those discussions require research and tangible plans first and foremost.
“Part of the research here is finding out what other municipalities do,” he said, and finding those liabilities potentially through other municipalities that already conduct snow removal services on behalf of their communities, will be a task administration will look into as they iron out the details.
Costs and roll-out
Fortunately, said Van Buul the costs associated so far with the snow removal process are manageable and wouldn’t require hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout the season or any excess costs from the routines operating budget potentially.
“This is something that we think—quite frankly— doesn’t even need to be added to the budget, but something that becomes part of our snow removal policy. We think it's probably a 20-25 thousand dollar touch, and if it's a contracted service, it's no different than the contracted services for the trucks or whatever else we use currently.”
However, more planning will be required in order to inform the community on how the process will work and what will it cost, he said. All the details will also require good communication from the county to business owners and community members when the plan is finalized this March.
The proposed new service, said Lac La Biche County Mayor Paul Reutov, is an opportunity for the county to garner support for the Main Street beautification projects and to support residents and business owners alike.
“I think the timing of this would be well positioned due to the Main Street improvements and beautification program. That was one of the concerns that were brought forward”, said Reutov, of the maintenance of the sidewalks throughout the downtown core.
“If people knew that the county would be looking after it, I think there would be a little more acceptance to this entire beautification process.”
Councillors and municipal administration will return in the new year with more details on the service that will be finalized in the Spring.