Dawson Maintenance has made changes to its winter road strategy following a surprise winter storm in October that dumped 30 centimetres of snow around Ashcroft and other parts of the South Cariboo.
“The storm wasn’t even forecast. It was tremendous, out of the blue unforecast, ‘wow, hey it’s winter,’” David Rhodes of Dawson Group told Ashcroft council earlier this month. “I’m sure many of you received calls on that. We had to change and adjust our strategy and approach.”
Rhodes said the company has set up three main brining yards — in Clinton, Lillooet, and 100 Mile House —where crews can mix brine. A thin layer of the salt brine is used to pre-treat the highways to prevent the snow from bonding to the road, providing greater traction.
Each brine yard also has a brine truck with the capacity to cover 120 kilometres of road, while newer and more “powerful” plow-wing trucks have also been added to the Ashcroft and Clinton fleets to provide more sanding capacity, he said. The trucks can now fill up at Ashcroft Indian band with sand, plow to the Highland Valley copper mine, and sand all the way back without running out of material.
The group has also changed its shift crews, with two primary shifts and two bridge shifts working four days on and three off. Crews will start earlier, at 5 a.m. ahead of all of the buses, and overlap coverage throughout the day.
Mayor Barbara Roden questioned how Dawson intends to deal with the Ashcroft Bridge this winter, noting the village received a lot of calls following the October snowstorm. The bridge, on Highway 97C, is a major corridor for people coming from north Ashcroft into downtown on mobility scooters.
While the village clears the pedestrian sidewalks, Dawson is responsible for keeping the bridge deck and sidewalks clear.
He said the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has a specification for virtually every part of its infrastructure and is pretty clear on how it wants to approach winter maintenance. Major A-classed highways with the most traffic, like the Trans-Canada and Highway 97, take priority for clearance, he said, followed by B-class roads like the Sea to Sky or Highway 97C, which must be cleared within 24 hours.
“From their perspective, 10,000 vehicles a day up and down the Trans-Canada or Cariboo Highway compared to 2,000 down lesser roads … they’re saying pedestrian access areas have a 24-hour response time,” Rhodes said.
“I know from my own experience 24 hours is a light-year when there’s snow on the sidewalk. Ultimately what has to happen is the local area foreman has to delegate resources in there.”
The winter storm came on the heels of other challenges this past year, including the pandemic and spring freshet and heavy rains that washed out roads and put “an incredible amount of risk at some of the bridges” in the area, including one at the north end of the Bonaparte Reserve.
At one point last summer, the company was dealing with 60 active sites, with nine roads closed in the South Cariboo, which is “pretty dramatic,” Rhodes said. A washout at Loon Lake, for instance, isolated more than 300 people. Although the organization “had to really stretch” to bring in enough people to meet the challenges, Rhodes said overall they were able to manage those sites really well.
Good year for Ashcroft
Despite COVID-19, the Village of Ashcroft stayed safe and kept busy during 2020.
In her year-end report, Mayor Barbara Roden noted the village was able to keep valued facilities such as the pool and the museum open despite the pandemic, while also holding the line on tax increases, rather than an anticipated 2.5 per cent boost previously agreed upon. The village was also able to pay off its outstanding debt of $1.3 million — for the water treatment plant and the primary fire engine—15 years earlier than planned, meaning Ashcroft is debt-free.
Looking ahead, the village learned that it would be receiving two level-two electric vehicle charging stations through the Charge North initiative, with the stations to be installed in 2021, as well as grant funding for two long-anticipated projects: replacement of lift station 1 in North Ashcroft and a new hot tub for the pool.