Snow-removal contractors having hectic year

Cordell Reise has been in the snow-removal business for 10 years. None stack up to 2013.

Cordell Reise has been in the snow-removal business for 10 years. None stack up to 2013.

“I think it was Oct. 28, or something like that, we hit the ground running and we haven’t stopped since,” said the owner of R&R Turf and Property Management.

Other local contractors tell similar stories.

“It’s been hectic, let me tell you,” said Brad Jorgensen, who operates BJ Bobcat & Trucking.

“I don’t remember snow being like this year’s since when I was a kid.”

“I’ve lived in Red Deer all my life and I can’t remember ever seeing this,” added Hugh Lockhart, whose business is Greenside Up Landscaping.

Kerri Tisdale, general manager of Alberta Parking Lot Services, cited some numbers to put things in perspective.

“Last year we had 127 cm in the whole year, up to the end of April. This year, at Dec. 23, we were at 97.1 cm of snow.”

That’s meant long hours with few days off for snow-removal workers.

Mark Body, who owns Maple Bay Maintenance, has taken one day off since the beginning of November — Christmas Day.

Lockhart has also been burning the candle at both ends.

“There have certainly been some weeks where I’ve been 105, 110 hours, and I’ve had a couple of my guys even more,” he said, noting that some of his employees are labouring with a shovel.

“Staffing is the biggest problem, because people don’t realize just how demanding it is.”

In addition to fatigue and sore muscles, human conflict can be a workplace hazard.

Body described one incident this winter when a motorist in a mall parking lot climbed into a loader and punched the operator. In another instance, a man who had to move his parked vehicle a short distance for a snow-removal crew threw a piece of ice at the loader and challenged its operator to a fight.

“That was just before Christmas,” marvelled Body. “It could be a city worker, it could be one of my girls shovelling a sidewalk — you just can’t have people assaulting people for no reason.”

Other contractors agreed that drivers, shoppers, residents and business owners often lose their cool as the snow piles up.

“We have the most thankless job out there,” said Jorgensen.

People need to realize that Mother Nature is the culprit, not snow-removal workers, said Tisdale.

“Other countries have typhoons and crazy hurricanes. In Western Canada, we get crazy snowfalls. They don’t happen a lot but when they do happen, we have to have patience.”

The heavy snowfall hasn’t necessarily meant a cash windfall for contractors, many of whom provide their services for a fixed monthly rate.

“This year, we’ve been losing on a lot of those,” said Tisdale.

Another problem has been finding a place to put all that frozen precipitation.

“We’re pretty much tapped out for space,” said Jorgensen. “We’ve already started hauling out some customers because they have no space left.”

But trucking snow off-site costs money, which customers are not eager to pay.

“We’re having a huge problem in that area,” said Reise of the snow-storage issue.

Space concerns also exist for snow that is being hauled. There can be long delays at Red Deer’s busy snow dump sites, and worse problems elsewhere.

“There are snow dumps within Central Alberta that are closed to contractors and the public,” said Tisdale. “They’re only open to the villages and towns.”

Dumping in places like farmers’ fields is not a solution, she added, because of the salt and sand contained within the snow.

Lockhart thinks Red Deer’s snow-removal workers would be happy to see an end to the white stuff.

“It wouldn’t break any of our hearts, I don’t think. Everybody wants work but it’s been a little ridiculous this year.”

Jorgensen would be quick to take advantage if business does slow.

“I’m ready to go to Mexico, where it’s warm,” he said.

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