While acknowledging several areas of improvement when it comes to snow clearing, Township staff have stopped short of recommending that the Sunderland works depot be re-opened.

In a report to council that will be discussed at Monday’s (June 5) meeting of the public works committee, CAO/Clerk Thom Gettinby noted that the cost of re-establishing a facility in the south end would far outweigh the potential benefits, even with the flurry of complaints from residents this past winter.Brock logo

“Staff acknowledge that the past winter was particularly challenging for the municipality. Environment Canada had predicted that we were going to be subject to an ‘old-fashioned’ winter season which was in stark contrast to previous winters of late. Four winter storm events stand out for Brock: two freezing rain events in January for which we were subject to periods of prolonged freezing rain which made treating the roads difficult and two snow events in February and April,” Gettinby wrote.

“The committee should note that the April event followed a day of sustained rain followed by substantial snow. Again, this made clearing operations difficult given the ‘softness’ of the roads.”

From a financial prospective, it’s simply not feasible for the Township to provide 24-hour coverage, he continued.

“The Township of Brock is a rural municipality which does not employ patrols or shifts on a 24-hour basis. Historically, the existing patrols have been sufficient to address our obligations under the Minimum Maintenance Standards. It is acknowledged that, while the standards were met on the days in question, certain deficiencies were noted. The cost to implement a patrol/shift on a 24-hour basis would be financially unsustainable for the municipality particularly given the number of severe winter weather events experienced,” Gettinby writes.

“It should also be noted that the Township is home to many commuters who travel to more urbanized municipalities that have significantly higher standards and practices for ice prevention and snow clearing operations. This is due to much higher traffic volumes which dictate higher standards under the Minimum Maintenance Standards (e.g. straight salt/bare road conditions). Drawing a direct comparison between Brock and more urbanized municipalities is simply not realistic.”

While a number of factors contributed to delays in snow clearing in February and March – including machinery breakdowns and turnover in experienced staff – the report highlights a number of areas that could be improved. The list includes:

  • Increased training opportunities and developing familiarity with established plow routes for less experienced staff;
  • Advance the timing of hiring of on-call casual labourers who are qualified and have experience in snowplowing operations;
  • Ensure that all replacement staff have are qualified to drive a snowplow;
  • Implementation of GPS equipment on all vehicles and tracking software;
  • Consider website and voicemail notifications (when staff are on other telephone calls) to advise the public as to the time of deployment during extreme inclement weather events;
  • Prompt follow-up of return telephone calls by the director of public works;
  • Educating members of council on the “ever-changing nature of public works operations” in an effort to assist staff in explaining issues to members of the public who contact them as opposed to deflecting all inquiries to staff;
  • E-mail broadcasts to members of council as to the deployment of winter control equipment to assist them in responding to public inquiries; and,
  • Councillors with concerns must be reminded that the first point of contact is the director of public works or the CAO/clerk. Frontline staff in the field should never be contacted or directed (by members of council).

On the topic of re-opening the Sunderland works depot, Gettinby noted that many of the issues that prompted its closure back in 2003 “continue to be relevant today.” That includes co-operation amongst employees (particularly in the summer months), inconsistencies in practices (such as start times for snow clearing operations), staffing limitations, communication issues and the duplication of overhead costs (utilities, equipment, etc.).

“The re-establishment of depot operations in Sunderland would not provide any appreciable time advantage for the commencement of plowing operations in this area. Any time savings would be limited to mere minutes and would have to be weighed against those quantitative and qualitative and costs required to establish depot operations in Sunderland… The committee should note that re-establishing depot operations in Sunderland has the potential to re-create all of the issues which precipitated the amalgamation in the first place,” Gettinby wrote.

The municipality would also face increased expenditures in a number of areas, including canceling a lease with the Region for the garage portion of the Sunderland depot, the possible retention of a second supervisor, renovations to the facility and the purchase of additional equipment.

Gettinby also noted that the municipality has already started planning for the expansion of the existing depot near Beaverton.

“The 2016 capital budget allocated $75,000 for pre-engineering and design of an expanded facility…Conceptual designs were received in February 2017 and have been reviewed by public works staff. During the course of these investigations, it has been determined that the existing septic system is not adequate to support the addition and a new well would be required,” Gettinby wrote.

“The municipality has expended considerable time and financial resources toward this project. The committee would have to re-evaluate its existing priority to modernize the Thorah depot with the stated intention to accommodate all outside staff.”

While Gettinby would not recommend the re-establishment of the Sunderland works depot, the final decision will be left to members of council.