Parked cars, narrow streets hampered snow removal

Most people agree that there was an extremely heavy snowfall in 1996, and some older residents remember one in the 1950s.

Most people agree that there was an extremely heavy snowfall in 1996

Most people agree that there was an extremely heavy snowfall in 1996

The City of Nelson has taken a lot of criticism on social media for its snow removal efforts in the past couple of weeks. But a senior city manager says they did the best they could with the staff and machinery they had.

It was the city’s biggest snowfall in at least 20 years. The Star has attempted to find snowfall records for Nelson over the past decades and found that the method and location of measurements has changed often, and that there are no records that are comparable over time.

Most people agree that there was an extremely heavy snowfall in 1996, and some older residents remember one in the 1950s.

“I have been here for over 35 years,” says the city’s Manager of Engineering Services Rob Nystrom, “and in my history this is a large snowfall. I have not seen one like this since winter of 95-96.”

Because the critics have had a field day online, the Star decided to ask Nystrom how he sees it, as one of the city managers who oversaw the snow removal work. We interviewed him on Friday, when the weather was starting to clear.

He told us that for several days after the big snowfalls on the weekend of February 4, the city had crews out around the clock, including casual employees, people who usually work in other parts of the public works department, and contractors with trucks and loaders.

“We pressed the engineering techs into service as well, and people in the warehouse. We have denied time off, had people working overtime through regular days off, working overtime after regular shifts, trying to get machines and bodies out there. The garage staff have really helped us out: they have been good in keeping our equipment running with no sustained breakages.

“We had all plows out, all our loaders out, all our sidewalk plows out, every piece of equipment that we own was out and working.

“The afternoon crew was staying over to meet the four a.m. crew so there has been lots of guys putting on 12 or 13 hours.”

He said the biggest challenge was the combination of parked cars, the large amount of snow, and Nelson’s narrow streets.

“We were not able to navigate a lot of areas when vehicles are parked and covered in snow. Sometimes with the sheer volume of snow, we were not able to push it any more. The belly plow trucks have trouble moving that much snow, so we have had to bring in loaders.”

He said some people complained about having their cars ploughed in behind large windrows of snow.

If we get another snowfall like that, Nystrom wants people to clear the snow off and around their cars even if they don’t intend to drive them. He said sometimes crews could not distinguish between a pile of snow and a snow-covered car.

“Shovel out a spot and try to get the car as close to the curb as you can.

“What happens is people park closer and closer toward the middle of the road because that is where it is plowed and easy to park, and soon you can’t get the snow plow through.”

And he asks people not to let their kids make snow forts in the snow windrows, in case of accident with a city snowblower or other equipment.

Nystrom said it’s too early to calculate the cost of the snow removal of the past few weeks, but he said the city has not necessarily overshot its snow removal budget for this year.

That will depend on how much snow we have next November and December.