Upstairs in the banquet room of the Coast Hillcrest Hotel, several dozen people are milling about, pouring themselves cups of coffee and filling small plates with muffins, croissants and other pastries.
The table is arranged in a big square and eventually everyone takes their seat. The occasion is the annual winter road operations meeting, where HMC Services, the contractor responsible for keeping the highways open.
Sitting around the table are representatives from dozens of stakeholders – the RCMP, Revelstoke Fire Rescue, Parks Canada, Ministry of Transportation, Revelstoke School District, BC Ambulance, BC Hydro, tow truck companies, the City of Revelstoke, Parks Canada, and more.
At the centre of it all is Derek Thur, the operations manager for HMC. The meeting is where he goes over HMC’s winter plans, and where the stakeholders can express their own concerns about what is happening.
Thur starts by setting out the shift schedule. They start early in the morning and in the afternoon. There’s 24-hour coverage on the highways, and shifts are extended during storms. They have a large fleet of plows, graders and sanders ready to go.
There’s been a change for Highway 23 North. HMC is no longer renting space at the camp at 50 Mile, so instead the plows will be heading north from Revelstoke and south from Mica to clear the highway.
Mike Copperthwaite from Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation expresses concerns with that arrangement. “I hope that will work,” replies Thur. “If it doesn’t, we’ll have to tweak it.”
Thur talks about procedures during closures and where they’ll move traffic when the highways are closed. Trucks will be lined up on the four-lane east of Revelstoke and dangerous goods kept well out of town. Traffic will be directed into the city as a last resort, but since people will head there anyway, the city should be ready, he warns.
The discussion goes around the tables with various stakeholders expressing their concerns. RCMP wants to make sure accurate information goes out regarding closures. Any crash involving a criminal code investigation will require a lengthy investigation, he warns. The RCMP has two part-time analysts based in Sicamous and Golden, but none in Revelstoke.
There’s also been a change to the way DriveBC will report estimated highway opening times. Instead of providing confidence levels, they will report a time range, says Art McLean, the regional operations manager for the Ministry of Transportation.
Ed Wozniak from the city’s department of public works wants to make sure the sidewalk to the bus depot at the Frontier stays clear. Columbia Towing wants better information on where accidents are.
Val Visotzky introduces himself as the new lead avalanche technician, replacing Bruce Allen, who retired in the spring after 30 years in the job. “There will be a bit of growing pains but everything should be smooth,” says Visotzky.
For BC Hydro, the concern is making sure their workers can get up to Mica this winter. They’re expecting up to 600 people living at Mica Creek this winter. The school district wants to make sure school buses are allowed over the Columbia River Bridge, and out to Greeley and the Peaks Lodge areas, during closures.
An avalanche technician from Storm Mountain possibly sums up a lot of concerns. “Probably the most dangerous part of our jobs isn’t the avalanches or explosives or helicopters or anything like that – it’s driving this highway,” he says.
City of Revelstoke
The City of Revelstoke has been slowly getting into winter mode, Darren Komonoski, the manager of public works told me.
The city’s fleet of machinery – four loaders, three sidewalk cleaners, three sanders and one tandem dump truck – has been winterized. The tires have been changed, blowers attached to the loaders, graders and sanding boxes put on, and underbodies installed on the machines.
Contractors have been hired to help deal with the snow load.
The list of staff positions to run the machinery has been posted. They are filled based on seniority.
At the city’s gravel pit, a 5,000-cubic-metre pile of sand (mixed with a bit of salt) has been prepared to lay down on city streets.
As usual, the city is preparing for 350 centimetres of snow. At $2,200 per centimetre to remove, it’s an expensive operation.
Meanwhile, crews have been out marking fire hydrants and removing park benches.
A skeleton crew will start on winter road duty on Nov. 17, with others being called in as needed, says Komonoski.
The city has a priority listing of streets that need to be plowed. First, it’s arterial roads and emergency access routes. Afterwords it’s the bus routes, big hills, remaining streets and city parking lots. They also fill up the yellow grit boxes you see around town.
A part of the preparation is educating the public. As I spoke to Komonoski, they were putting the finishing touches on the winter brochure, which outlines where people can pile their snow and the dos and donts of snow removal.
PHOTO: Parks Canada mechanics Paul Fortier and Bryce Byman install winter tires. Contributed by Parks Canada.
Up in Glacier National Park, it’s much the same story, with the added twist of avalanche control. The focus is on keeping the Trans-Canada Highway open and safe for motorists, which involves a fleet of heavy equipment, and some artillery for avalanche control.
Parks Canada hires equipment operators and avalanche control specialists to work for the entire winter, from October to April. They both go through safety briefings and training as the snow approaches.
Maintenance crews get the equipment ready for winter – installing snow buckets on loaders, switching dump trucks to sander boxes and preparing a new grader for service. They get sand-and-salt mixes ready and stored at Rogers Pass and Quartz Creek to the east. Stockpiles are replenished throughout the winter.
Meanwhile, avalanche technicians monitor the snowpack as it develops. With the help of the army, they perform avalanche control along the highway through Glacier National Park. There is an agreement in place with CP Rail to conduct avalanche control along the railway line through the park as well.