Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Rupert's snow daze stretches the limits

The rather heavy dose of winter weather timed as it has been over the Christmas and New Year's period has seemingly stretched the limits of endurance of both the city and its residents.

As the snow piled, the streets iced over and the side streets went unplowed, Rupertites tried to cope as best they could to the unusual circumstances that they found themselves in.

The string of storms falling when they did, coincided with Christmas holidays, no doubt leaving the city short staffed to handle the volume of work that piled up on city streets.

With last Sunday's brief respite from the cold was replaced by torrential rains that developed turning city streets from snow scenes and skating rinks into wading pools in some locations, making for a huge mess for the start of the post holiday work week.

Monday and Tuesday saw city work crews out in large numbers taking care of any number of trouble areas including a full scale attack on the snowbound streets of the downtown core.

Among other problems that city residents had to contend with in the last few days were highway closures, airline cancellations and power outages as the weather wreaked havoc in the region.

The Daily News featured a pair of tales on the snowy daze that the city found itself in, including a front page story for Tuesday's paper.

Heavy snowfall, strong winds lead to problems with the area's power, phones, transportation

By Monica Lamb-Yorski
The Daily News
Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pages one and Two

Amid the high winds and rain that pounded the North Coast on Sunday, an electrical transformer located behind Galaxy Gardens malfunctioned around 5:20 p.m. resulting in a power outage that lasted around three hours.

Witnesses saw a large flash, complete darkness, a secondary flash and then the lights went out.
One of the waitresses at Galaxy Gardens saw the transformer sparking, said manager Sandy Sy.
Afterwards Sy's staff noticed a charred section - approximately one foot in length - on the hydro pole near the transformers.

The power outage took place around dinner time Sunday evening when staff were in the middle of cooking delivery orders.

With candles, flash lights and limited light from the emergency lighting in the restaurant, staff were able to let customers finish eating dinner but afterwards, they closed the restaurant for the rest of the night.

"Firemen arrived and told us not to go out the back door, so we left from the front," said Sy, who came back to the restaurant around 9:30 p.m. and saw that BC Hydro crews had everything working fine.

Across the street, the staff and customers at Overwaitea Foods saw the flash but after the power stayed off for more than a few minutes, the store was closed and the staff left.

At West End Grocery, across the alley from Galaxy Gardens, two staff members kept the store open, even without power.
A Coleman lamp supplied enough light to let customers know the store was open and sales were processed using a calculator and a piece of paper, said one of the clerks.

It was pretty quiet at King Coin Laundry before the power outage, so no one was caught mid-loads while at Tim Hortons, everything stopped and reopened when the power came back on.
At the Daily News, editor Earle Gale, who starts work at 6 p.m. most nights, wasn't able to start on the next day's newspaper until the power was back on.

A call is in to BC Hydro for comment about the outage but in light of bigger outages, it's understandable that the media contact person is busy.

In addition to Sunday night's power outage, several Prince Rupert residents were forced to spend the night in Terrace night after Highway 16 was closed between Terrace and Prince Rupert on Sunday afternoon due to avalanche hazards. The road has since reopened. The Rupert Rampage team, skiers, families who had gone to Houston for a best-ever hockey event and people en route home from the holidays, were unable to drive west until the highway re-opened around 3:20 p.m. Monday.

"The road was very good but a big heavy blizzard for about a third of the way in the middle around 5 p.m. It appeared that people were driving in smaller packs. We'd see six or seven cars or transport trucks in a group," said Kendall Smith of Prince Rupert who was up skiing at Shames on Sunday.

"There was lots of work being done with the highways people - we saw lots of vehicles and equipment. We left Terrace around 4 p.m."

The extreme weather had several other impacts locally. Several flights were delayed or cancelled recently as crews dealt with heavy snowfall both here in Prince Rupert and at Vancouver airport.

And some stores have felt the brunt of the bad weather. Some store owners in Cow Bay were forced to close on Monday after melting water made its way into buildings after the area's storm drains were blocked with snow.

City staff plow into huge task of clearing snowfall
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Page one

As the snow continued to fall on Prince Rupert Monday, the city's team of snow plow truck drivers were continuing to do their best to keep local roads clear.

But the unusual dump is putting stress on the city's budget, said General Manager of Public Works Bob Thompson.

Because the trucks must run 24 hours per day, with one vehicle dedicated to either side of the city, the extra surge of the white stuff has driven city snow costs up by an extra 15 per cent, placing yet another strain on a tight city budget.

"We've been struggling with our budget for 2008 and we are having a hard time with 2009 as well.
"It's not inexpensive," said Thompson.

Each of the city's two main snow plow trucks costs about $1,000 a day to run.

The city's budget for snow plowing in 2008 was $300,000, which Thompson said had been the level of funding for about a decade.

"Ultimately, inflation catches up. We have been lucky for the last few years with the mild winters," said Thompson.

In addition to the costs, the amount of effort put in by both staff and equipment is a concern as well. Thompson said that the truck drivers need rest and so do the trucks.

While locals may grumble that they have to deal with mountainous snow piles on city streets and ramparts around their vehicles, Thompson said he has been impressed with how well Rupertites have dealt with the situation.

"I've found that people have been pretty good about it and understanding. They like the snow," said Thompson.

The city breaks its winters into two seasons during a fiscal year, one at the beginning of the year and one at the end of the year.

"That's one of the first things councillors learn," said Thompson.

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