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Calgary Parks admits it wasn’t ready for early October snowfall

Calgary’s Parks department says it was caught a bit flat footed when the city was hit by two early October snowfalls and it did not meet the new 24-hour deadline for pathway clearing.

In past winters, the city had been criticized for not clearing its own sidewalks to the same standards of private property owners, who must have their sidewalks shoveled within 24 hours of a snowfall.

In July, council voted to put more funding into doing just that – part of a plan to make the city more accessible to pedestrians.

The cost of this higher standard of clearing is expected to cost $9.5 million this winter.

But Matthew Blair, Calgary Parks’ infrastructure lead, said they simply weren’t ready to start clearing pathways this early in the season.

“It’s not usual to have this volume of snow at this time of the year,” he said. “Our crews were simply doing summer construction work. When the snow melts next week we’ll be back installing playgrounds and things like that.”

He said it’s not that they didn’t look at the weather forecast, but rather that they’re tied to schedules and obligations based around normal weather patterns.

“We mobilized all the appropriate equipment,” said Blair. “We had the buckets taken off bobcats and had them fitted with snowblowers and blades and brooms as quickly as we could.”

The real problem though, was that Parks already relies on external contractors to tackle most of the paths. In fact, they do as much as 90 per cent of the snow-clearing, according to Blair.

He said they’ve now divided city park pathways in to 76 separate routes, and have put out tenders so that contractors can bid on those jobs.

As of Nov. 1, any of those city pathways will be tackled by the contractor within 24 hours.

Sidewalks that are the responsibility of city’s Roads department were cleared in time, according to spokeswoman Tara Norton-Merrin.

“We used to do that on day four or five of our seven day plan,” said Roads Spokeswoman Tara Norton-Merrin. “Now it’s being done on day one.”

Norton-Merrin said the city is only responsible for about 9 per cent of the city’s sidewalks. The patchwork of city-owned stretches of sidewalk becomes apparent when you look at the city’s map.

“What’s important for people to realize is that the vast majority of sidewalks are maintained by businesses and residents,” said Norton-Merrin.

Sgt. Christine Thatcher, the bylaw enforcement officer overseeing south Calgary, said her officer received the expected number of calls about uncleared sidewalks after the first big snowfall.

This year, officers have a new tool to work with – fines.

“To start, we’ll absolutely do the education and of course we’ll do the written warnings – it’s basically a courtesy to say, ‘Hey – you haven’t done what you’re required to do.’”

But she said by the end of the season, repeat offenders could face fines from the city which start at $250 and can escalate to $750 for the third offense, and any offense after that.

The clock on the 24-hour window to clear the sidewalk begins when the snow ends. Thatcher said that can create a problem.

“One of the challenges is if there isn’t a clear 24 hours before it starts snowing again, this becomes an animal unto itself.

She said while that’s a loophole that a small number of homeowners exploit, she said people need to stay on top of keeping their sidewalks clear for the sake of their neighbours.

“People still need to be diligent and safety always needs to be the number one point,” she said.