The work of private contractors hired by the city to clear back lanes is being questioned after residents in several neighbourhoods ran into metre-high walls of ice blocking their back yards.
Tim Winnicky is a small-time residential yard maintenance who earns his living every winter clearing driveways. He said he couldn’t believe the walls of ice he encountered in back lanes this week.
"When I heard the city was going to be plowing back lanes I’d knew I was going to be busy but I’ve never seen anything like this," Winnicky said. "The bucket on by bobcat can lift 1,100 pounds but I couldn’t move, it was so heavy."
Residents with back lanes have been crying foul after contractors plowed the lanes but left high windrows thick with solid ice.
"I only have two customers along this lane (between Ash and Waterloo streets) but when I finished one, a neighbour would come running out and ask me to do theirs and then another and another and another.
"I don’t mind taking the money but I ended up clearing a dozen yards," Winnicky said.
It was like they were digging for gold, they went down so deep.
'The worst I've seen it'
Doug Scott was one of the Ash Street residents who flagged Winnicky down Friday afternoon.
"The plow came down our laneway Thursday and as it got closer to our house I could see the windrow getting higher and higher," Scott, 77, said. "I went outside and it was just under my eyes — and I’m only 5-foot-4.
"We’ve lived here 35 years and this is the worst I’ve seen it," Scott said. "Not only was it five-feet high, it was about three-feet thick — heavy, compacted chunks of ice.
"I tried to clear it but I give up after doing 12 feet. When I saw (Winnicky), I flagged him down and got him to do ours and our neighbour’s too, who is recovering from surgery.
"It cost me $80 but it was money well spent."
This week’s mild weather and then the sudden turn to cold overnight Thursday, left deep ruts in many laneways, Winnicky said.
While in past winters, contractors would only skim the ruts away at this time of year, Winnicky said this week they cleared the lanes all the way to the pavement, leaving behind huge windrows of snow and ice.
"I don’t know who told them to do that or why .... it was like they were digging for gold, they went down so deep," Winnicky said. "That’s the problem."
Policy forces residents to deal with windrows
The situation prompted River Heights councillor John Orlikow to call on Mayor Katz to order plows to clear all windrows in the back lanes — a move Katz is unable to do on his own.
The city’s policy is to plow back lanes but residents have to deal with windrows, regardless of how high they become.
Orlikow said city hall should express its sympathy for the brutal winter its citizens have endured, on top of the brown water, broken water mains, and frozen water lines, and clear all back lane windrows.
"The City can show its appreciation by removing back lane windrows," said Orlikow, who plans to run for mayor in the October civic election.
Coun. Russ Wyatt and Katz last month pushed to have the city re-examine its back-lane snow-clearing policy, specifically to consider employing new equipment to clear windrows. The public works department is preparing a report on the possible change.
Back lanes are difficult to plow because they are narrow and there is no place to store the snow.
Orlikow said he supports the back lane review, adding clearing back lane windrows should be considered if the city can afford to do it.
Orlikow said the city should also notify residents when their back lanes are being plowed.
Scott said after 35 years, he was used to clearing windrows but he couldn’t do it this week.
"I’ve got no place left to put the snow and then we were left with this wall of ice," Scott said, adding he’s concerned the city will get more snow this month.
Winnicky said he understands how this winter has been difficult for the private snow-clearing contractors.
"We’ve had so much snow, it’s like it’s been two winters in one," Winnicky said, adding the frigid temperatures created ice as strong as steel that quickly wore out his equipment.
"I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like it."