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Snow removal complaints pile up in Castlegar

Members of Castlegar city council say residents are deeply frustrated at local snow removal this winter and even more annoyed that have no official way of venting about it.

“People told me they called the emergency number, but no one was picking it up,” said councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff of the snowfall over the Christmas holidays. “There was no way to get their frustrations out or to tell anybody what their issues were.”

Heaton-Sherstobitoff said the city needs a better way of communicating to the public, especially in big dumps, and suggested using Facebook or the city’s web page to explain where plowing will be done on any given day.

“Our communication on this has not been very good this year. People just want someone to know they have an issue and someone has listened to them. Maybe we can’t deal with it for a couple of days because of the priorities, but we need a better system. They just want to be heard sometimes.”

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Councillor Shirley Falstead agreed. “People said to me ‘It’s like phoning Sunwing. We don’t get an answer.’ I don’t want to hire someone to answer the phone, but we need another method of communicating.”

Councillor Cherryl MacLeod said she has “never heard or seen as many complaints about snow removal. We even got a letter from Canada Post complaining about the state of our snow removal. That’s kind of depressing.”

Last month council was told that staff shortages and faulty equipment have contributed to the problem.

Operations manager Samuel Shine said another issue was that the large snowfall hit on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, when staff are not mandated to work. They relied on those willing to come in on their holidays, and had to make do with whoever was available.

“We worked tirelessly with the resources we did have,” he said, adding they had to stick to priority routes.

The city used to have a snowphone that people could call about such matters, but it hasn’t been in service for a couple of years, Shine said. They prefer problems to be phoned in directly to civic works, but the emergency line is not designed just to unload frustrations.

Municipal services director Chris Hallam said yet another factor has been turnover in some key positions, as it’s easier for staff who have done the job for many years to work through certain challenges than it is for new people.

“We hear you loud and clear,” he said. “We want nothing more than to figure this out. There’s a solution. Just give us some time.”

Hallam said they want to come up with a system that works for staff and allows the public to bring them concerns that can be addressed in real time.

Shine added that in addition to snow removal they’re reviewing callout procedures, after-hours coverage, and communication, with plans to improve in the coming months.

Councillor Darcy Bell said he believes the public is willing to be patient, but residents get frustrated if there is no place to get updates or ask questions.

Heaton-Sherstobitoff said she thought a plan would have been in place after the matter was discussed last month. With more snow presumably to come this year, she said they need to act.

“We better prepare something for the next snowfall. The best way is to communicate to people. It needs to be done.”

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