Time for extreme measures

What is the cost of a Snow Day to an economy the size of Red Deer’s?

What is the cost of a Snow Day to an economy the size of Red Deer’s?

What is the impact of Red Deer College sending students and staff home, school bus routes shutting down and countless employees across the city unable to get to work?

What is the cost of thousands of copies of the Red Deer Advocate not reaching the doorsteps of subscribers, both in lost income to the newspaper and in lost income to advertisers who wished to reach those readers? What about the disconnect for readers?

What is the cost to the retail community when shoppers won’t venture out, even in the lead-up to Christmas?

What damage has been done to our vehicles?

And to what level is the City of Red Deer responsible for this lost income, ramped-up individual costs, derailed productivity and general malaise of a Snow Day?

Extreme weather events happen. It’s a reality of Canadian life, particularly in Central Alberta (we are, after all, the epicentre of extreme summer storms on the Prairies, and winter storms increasingly seem just as frequent and violent).

So it should never have taken the initiative of two rookie city council members to force an examination of snow clearing policies related to extreme weather events.

It should always have been an expectation that, given the hardship created by extreme weather in Red Deer, the reaction of Public Works staff would be swift and concerted. And that’s not on the Public Works staff, that’s on the political masters who ultimately direct city staff, through administration.

But we are now sitting in a paralyzing pile of snow. And we have been watching it pile up for a month. November’s snowfall was almost four times the average for that month (62.5 cm compared to an average of 16.9 cm in Novembers past).

And December has dawned in a fashion just as menacing as the previous month.

Our residential roads are like frigid quicksand. Our public sidewalks are impassable. If you could actually navigate the sidewalks, you could always opt to use public transit instead of running the risk of becoming stuck in your own vehicle. But children and seniors, particularly, cannot plod through the piles of snow now clogging our sidewalks.

On Monday, Red Deer city Councillors Ken Johnston and Tanya Handley asked that administration review the snow and ice policy as it applies to extreme weather events. And a motion to create a separate snowfall reserve fund was put on the table.

Both issues need to be dealt with promptly. Waiting until operating budget discussions in the new year will only mean another month of potential paralysis on our streets.

The snow removal blitz that was launched on Monday night will cost $175,000 from the city’s $3.4-million snow removal budget.

At this point in year, only $238,181 is left in the budget, or $63,181 after the blitz, so another campaign like this week’s will put the fund in a deficit position. And then what?

This city needs to prepared to deal with as many as five extreme weather events a year, winter and summer, and the money should be in a specific fund ready for those eventualities. At $200,000 for each event (and we’re talking quick response, not long-term repairs), that’s $1 million a year.

There needs to be a clear protocol for assessing and reacting quickly to extreme events, and it should be an administrative decision, not left to politicians at twice-monthly meetings.

When the money isn’t all used in a single year, it should stay in the fund. Every climate scientist worth his or her degree is clear on one thing: extreme weather will become more prevalent, not less, thanks to global warming. So if the fund is not all used in one year, it will certainly be needed in another.

And $1 million is really a drop in the bucket. This year’s city operating budget is $288.5 million. An additional $1 million amounts to roughly $10 per person per year, or 83¢ a month per person.

And that’s a lot less than this Snow Day will cost the people of Red Deer, and its businesses, in lost economic activity.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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