A City of Maple Ridge snow plow drives along 231st Street on Monday.

A City of Maple Ridge snow plow drives along 231st Street on Monday.

Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows cope with snow storm

Barge with salt delayed.

Environment and Natural Resources weather service didn’t make an early call on the major snowfall and neither did the city’s own weather forecast service.

But Maple Ridge roads superintendent Walter Oleschak had a feeling that New Year’s Eve might bring a heavy snowfall, so he got on the phone.

“Just to be safe, I started calling my guys to see who would be available just in case it became something more, which I’m happy I did, because it became something more,” Oleschak said Monday.

With many people out and about celebrating the new year, the surprise snow fall that hit Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows and other parts of the Fraser Valley turned the festive night into a winter wonderland.

Snow started falling at about 4 p.m. and continued until about 1 a.m.

“We knew we were getting some kind of snow. We were expecting, at the most, about nine centimetres, and we got close to 20 cm in some places of Maple Ridge,” Oleschak said.

Vancouver International Airport reported only four centimetres of snow on Dec. 31, however.

Oleschak said that Northwest was calling for rain and three to five centimetres of snow mixed with rain and earlier on New Year’s Eve he had just four crew on standby.

But he ramped up and soon the full complement of 12 plows and sanding trucks plus a grader were on city roads from 4 p.m. that day to 4 a.m. the next day.

“Every single guy was called in.”

On a normal winter night about nine crew are on the roads.

With the snowfall unrelenting, they could barely keep up.

Crews finished clearing the priority routes, only to have to go back and clear them again.

“By New Year’s Day, all the priorities were down to black road and the secondaries were all drivable,” Oleschak said.

That left sidestreets unplowed or spread with sand, but on Monday crews started clearing those.

Sunshine intervened in the next two days, but more snow or rain is forecast for the weekend.

“Now that they’re saying it, we may not get it [snow], so we’re hoping for that.”

Oleschak said people seem fairly happy with the city’s efforts.

He didn’t receive many complaints about Mainroad Lower Mainland Contracting, which is responsible for clearing Lougheed Highway.

“I think they did pretty good, as well.”

Mike Quee, on 231st Street, though, said that the city only spread sand but didn’t plow 231st Street. He was worried about emergency vehicles getting around.

“The side streets are just a sheet of ice.”

He had his sidewalk shoveled on Monday and was spreading salt and said he doesn’t mind the cold snap.

“This isn’t cold,” he said, when temperature was a bit under 0 C. He lived in Manitoba for 10 years and northern Alberta for two years.

“As long as you dress for it, you’re fine.”

While the cold spell lingers, cities in Metro Vancouver are watching their supplies of road salt because of a regional shortage. Maple Ridge was expecting to replenish its supplies Tuesday. The city will have enough for whatever snow falls on this weekend, “but one more snow storm and we’ll be out again,” Oleschak said.

If the city runs out of salt, it will spread sand.

“We’ve got tons of sand.”

Oleschak advised motorists who have summer tires on their vehicles to stay home on snowy days.

“Our plows were having to navigate around those cars.”

Crews then use their time trying to help those who are stuck.

Under Maple Ridge’s Highway and Traffic Bylaw, people have to clear their sidewalks of snow or ice by 10 a.m. the day after a snowfall. But that doesn’t mean tossing the snow on to the road where it can freeze and then make conditions worse for motorists.

Inevitably, the rain will come and melt all the snow, which could cause large pools of water if catch basins are clogged. The City of Maple Ridge therefore has an “adopt a catch-basin program.”

The city is asking residents to adopt a catch basin near their homes, and when it is safe to do so, clear any obstructions that are blocking water.

“By making sure there’s a clear catch basin and a path for the water to go to from the melting snow and leaves, your actions will help the streets get back to normal quickly after weather events,” the city says on its website.

Maple Ridge’s annual snowfall budget is $200,000, but in mid December, $130,000 of that had already been used.

In Pitt Meadows, the city had six vehicles were clearing streets on New Year’s Eve, compared to a normal crew of only one on during the night.

“All the major roads were done,” by New Year’s Day, said Randy Evans, public works superintendent.

The city is also watching its salt supplies and has about a five-day supply left, though it’s expecting more this week.

A barge that regularly provides salt to the area, and which was expected by Jan. 10, has been delayed by five days because of bad weather.

But Evans pointed out that salt only works down to temperatures of -7 C. After that, cities use a combination of salt and sand or just sand.

Thursday is expected to remain cold with warming on the weekend and more snow or rain expected Saturday or Sunday, which makes it tough again with staff on their weekends off.

Evans added that residents dumping their snow out on to the streets, rather than putting it on to their lawns, makes it difficult because the snow plows just come along and plow that snow again, blocking their driveways.