Road-clearing following a Nov. 2 snowfall spawns a storm of complaints against local road maintenance contractor JPW Inc.-Image credit: File photo

Public pans snow-clearing in Shuswap

Ministry says JPW's road maintenance service needs review, improvement

Mother Nature’s introduction to winter brewed a storm of complaints and three accidents, including a fatality on the Trans-Canada Highway near Canoe.

Streets within Salmon Arm are the responsibility of the city. Maintenance on all other roads in the Shuswap, including the Trans-Canada Highway, is contracted to JPW Inc.

In response to questions from the Salmon Arm Observer, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) says JPW’s service to the Shuswap requires improvement. The ministry has filed a non-conformance report, which will require the company to undertake a review and develop measures to prevent a recurrence of their response to the Nov. 2 storm.

Reaction from the general public has been much harsher. Outrage at the lack of highway maintenance following the Nov. 2 storm has been expressed widely on social media and in conversation.

Columbia Shuswap Regional District Area C South Shuswap director Paul Demenok says his phone has been ringing incessantly as many people are under the impression the regional district is in charge of road maintenance.

“Our services are being compromised – a car slid into a school bus, our garbage truck slid into the ditch and our road has yet to see a plow,” he said Nov. 10.

Karen Brown sits on a governance review committee in the South Shuswap and says at every meeting the number 1 issue and support for becoming a municipality is the state of the roads and the ability to maintain them as a community, rather than relying on JPW.

Another Blind Bay resident, Debbie Reeves, vented her anger on Facebook, with a post providing numbers for residents to call in order to lodge their complaints.

“Not happy with our roads? Share this info. In Blind Bay, all sanding, salting or snow clearing falls under the Ministry of Transportation in Salmon Arm. The Ministry has contracted JPW Road & Bridge Inc. to provide these services.

“The weather surprised everybody, but in Blind Bay everybody lives on a steep hill and when they (JPW) don’t come out, it turns to solid ice chunks and you can’t leave the house because you’re sliding and have no way to have control,” says Reeves. “They came through Saturday night with their truck, but it was too late; it was ice and the only thing they did was sand and only some areas got it.”

A Blind Bay resident for five years, Reeves says it’s not just the response time that frustrates her, but the calibre of the equipment used on her road.

“The best we get is a pickup truck with a blade on the front and it just skims, it doesn’t get down to the pavement,” she says, calling for a grader for internal roads. “We don’t expect miracles; we understand it takes time to get everywhere but going two to three days is no use, the damage is done, the ice has built up.”

Rick Proznick, Observer publisher and Blind Bay resident, says when he arrived at Eagle Bay Road at Reedman Point at about 3:45 p.m. last Friday, the road was sheer ice.

A five-ton delivery truck had spun out and two area residents armed with walkie-talkies were directing traffic in an effort to get the truck on its way and allow traffic to resume.

“It was a solid sheet of ice and there was no sand,” Proznick says. “They didn’t plow until Saturday morning and the roads are still like ungraded dirt roads.”

Area resident Carrie Gleason says she has seen a big drop in quality of road maintenance since MOTI handed the task over to private contractors.

“The road conditions have worsened,” she says. “We all have relatives driving the roads all the time and you wonder if they’re gonna get home safely.”

A Nov. 9 email response from MOTI emphasized the importance the ministry places on road safety and explained that during storms, ministry staff regularly monitor work around the clock to provide real-time monitoring. The email also contends JPW has sufficient equipment and chemical systems in place to deal with snow and ice on highways.

“The ministry acknowledges that while JPW did respond to the storm, there was room for improvement in how their resources were deployed prior to and during the storm event,” reads the email. “In accordance with the contract, non-conformance reports (NCR) were issued to JPW. These NCR’s identified maintenance deficiencies and require JPW to undertake a review and develop measures to prevent re occurrence.”

The email also states that JPW could have executed more proactive maintenance in the region, which would have reduced compacted snow and could have provided more information to the public through DriveBC.

“Ministry staff are working with JPW to ensure they improve performance and deliver quality winter maintenance throughout the remainder of the winter,” reads the email. “Ministry staff drive the road network regularly to evaluate the performance of our contractors relative to contract requirements.”

A ministry rep says JPW had all of its equipment out on the roads plowing and sanding during the Nov. 9 snowstorm and ministry staff were driving the roads to monitor the company’s performance.

Meanwhile, Demenok is providing residents with contact numbers to use in order to lodge complaints: Local MOTI manager Peter Cocker at 250-833-3371 and JPW at 1-877-546-3799.

Rob Hine, manager of roads and parks for the City of Salmon Arm, says that while complaints about service have been called in, crews continue to work according to a set formula: arterial and connector roads are cleared first and until a storm is over, then main roads through town and the downtown area are addressed before crews turn to residential roads.

“There are always complaints with people wanting special service,” Hine says, noting there are many seniors in the area who complain about the windrows (piles of snow) that are left at the end of their driveways by snow-clearing equipment. “That would require a big upgrade in service levels. We would have to buy another five graders.”

The Nov. 9 storm resulted in two semi-trailers going off the road – one at the Salmon River Bridge and another near the Sunnybrae-Canoe Point intersection with the Trans-Canada Highway.

RCMP Salmon Arm detachment watch commander Trevor Medernach says both accidents occurred overnight, nobody was injured and both trucks were due to be removed on Friday.

When asked about possible causes for the accidents, Medernach said he believes it was likely a matter of “speed based on road conditions.”