Snow’s woes: ‘We are working really hard on that’
Snow, snow, snow.
Photo by Vince Fedoroff
ADDRESSING THE GATHERING – Mayor Dan Curtis speaks to concerns around snow removal and green spaces at the beginning of the downtown town hall meeting Wednesday evening. Diane Brent Forest Pearson JP Pinard
Snow, snow, snow.
A blizzard of questions and criticisms around snow removal and sidewalk clearance whirled at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening.
Council members addressed frosty concerns that also touched on the state of Pioneer Cemetery, walking trails and vacant lots during the two-hour event — the third in a series of four throughout the city — at Whitehorse Elementary School.
Mayor Dan Curtis acknowledged the difficulty city workers are having keeping up with what he called “110 centimetres” of snow that have piled up within the past two weeks.
“We are working really hard on that…. We’re having shifts around the clock,” he said.
The administration has brought on extra trucks to deal with the snowy onslaught which has blanketed the 700 kilometres of roads that lie within city limits.
“It is the main ones that have the fire trucks, the school buses, the ambulances,” Curtis said, describing the priority list.
“I wish we could do it faster. We did get inundated with an awful lot.”
Diane Brent, a downtown resident, was equally concerned with pedestrian problems: “The bylaw on sidewalk clearing is not sufficiently enforced.”
She added that “excessive” salt use by downtown retailers could be harmful to pets, damage vegetation and wind up in the watershed.
“It’s insane. It’s unnecessary.”
Coun. John Streicker said the city is looking into an education campaign to encourage prompt sidewalk shovelling and discourage heavy salt use.
Brent also said “erratic weather,” which she attributes to global warming, demands a fresh approach to snow clearance.
The “passive compaction” strategy that allows a solid base of snow to build in the streets can result in slush that turns to ice when temperatures rise and fall, she pointed out.
Several of the roughly two dozen residents at the meeting expressed lingering dissatisfaction with problems at Pioneer Park, as well.
Last spring, complaints around off-leash dogs and the neglected state of several headstones led the administration to put up signs — without public consultation — prohibiting pooches from the park.
While this was within the administration’s mandate and not a council decision, “it’s a little bit bizarre that we were excluded,” one resident said.
“It’s not a good feeling to be ignored.”
Streicker responded: “The attempt was to do it in good faith.”
“It’s this knee-jerk reaction that occurred without checking in with all effective parties,” Brent replied.
Coun. Kirk Cameron chimed in: “We’ve moved a long way from where we were.”
“Well, with the signage still up, it doesn’t seem like that,” another resident said.
“We’ve apologized,” Curtis said. “I’ve apologized.”
Streicker acknowledged that “the amount of dog excrement that was revealed with last spring’s thaw” was unacceptable.
He assured residents a “new design is coming out for the public to review.” It will likely permit on-leash dogs and, ideally, “responsible citizens” within the cemetery, he said.
Some residents were discontented with the state of the Millennium and Waterfront trails in the wake of the recent snow dump.
Forest Pearson, a member of the Downtown Residents Association, said that while the Klondike Snowmobile Association — responsible for maintaining the trails — do their best, “after a certain amount of snowfalls snowmobiling is inadequate to make it truly walkable.”
Pearson said plowing the routes is unsafe in certain parts and could lead to ice buildup in others.
“Obviously, the trails are really important to us, and I think a major investment has happened there,” Curtis said.
He added that another set of stairs by the escarpment was “not in the works,” citing the high cost of construction — and the city’s $68-million budget, which compares to the territory’s $1.22-billion budget.
City engineers have examined the cliffs and deemed more vegetation necessary to hold the terrain together, he said.
“We need more shrubbery, but the airport won’t allow it,” making the potential undertaking all the more pricey.
Residents also pointed to the obstacle vacant lots present to downtown densification and beautification.
The mayor said fire chief Clive Sparks had recently ordered an abandoned, fire-damaged building behind Whitehorse Elementary demolished within 90 days.
“We know it’s important to have a vibrant community, and that really starts with the downtown core,” Curtis said.
Meeting attendees gave the city a “thumbs up” for compost collection and the Christmas tree at foot of Main Street, provided by Telus.
Curtis spoke briefly to concerns raised over sustainable housing and Yukon Energy’s possible liquefied natural gas (LNG) generating plant within the city.
“Sustainable housing is one of our top priorities,” he said.
“We know we’d like everyone to have a middle-class home, but we know that’s not possible.”
The Yukon Housing Corp. said last month it will select between two and 10 social housing proposals to be built in the communities and Whitehorse.
Meanwhile, Yukon Energy wants to begin construction of an LNG plant and storage facility — including a fence for containing errant gas particles — near the Whitehorse Rapids Dam starting in May.
“Will this fence prevent those liquids from getting out?” asked resident JP Pinard.
Curtis said the city is in consultation with the territorial government on the issue, but did not linger on the topic.
In its application last summer to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, the publicly owned utility said time is of the essence.
Yukon Energy wants to have the two generators powered by natural gas operational for the fall of 2014, according to the application.
See more on the heavy snowfall’s effects on the city in Friday’s Star.