A cost analysis for snow removal service on a two-block section in Langdon will be discussed during Rocky View County’s (RVC) 2022 budget deliberations in January.
Division 7 (Langdon) Coun. Al Schule brought forward the issue at the Dec. 7 council meeting, stating the section along Centre Street between the Langdon Park and Railway Avenue serves as a connection between two pathways.
A bylaw passed last year requires property owners and occupants to clear snow and ice from public sidewalks adjacent to their property within 24 hours of a snowfall. The bylaw applies to sidewalks that were previously serviced by the County in Langdon, as well as the Springbank gated community Harmony, Watermark in Bearspaw, Cochrane Lake, and East Balzac.
However, RVC is still responsible for clearing pathway systems and sidewalks adjacent to County-owned buildings.
In a phone interview, Schule explained the contractor who clears Langdon’s pathways for the County lifts their blades to cross the stretch of sidewalk running along those blocks to get to the pathways on the other side. Instead, they could easily keep the blades lowered and clear the sidewalk that connects the two pathways, he said.
“The biggest problem is that this is the only area with a twin road going through it, a double lane highway,” Schule said.
When that double lane road, Centre Street, gets plowed, Schule said snow, ice, and gravel get pushed back onto the sidewalks. This happens multiple times per day.
Most of the residents along that road are elderly and can’t clear the snow and ice pushed back by the plow, while others include small business owners who don’t have equipment to clear the snow, according to Schule.
“I know a couple of days ago, the only ones clearing it were the bigger businesses with the equipment. Other than that, a couple residents try to keep it clear, but the majority can't clear it. It's a safety hazard,” he said.
The area also contains several empty lots and one county-owned building, according to Schule.
Schule told council on Dec. 7 that he cleared a portion of that sidewalk after a recent snowfall as he “kind of falls in that area.” While clearing snow, he had to step aside as a County-hired contractor drove across the stretch to clear pathways on the other end, he said.
The cost analysis will convey what the additional cost of those blocks along Centre Street are to the County.
Prior to removing the snow-clearing service in several areas through the bylaw, this service cost the County anywhere from $200,000 to $250,000, administration explained on Dec. 7. County staff clarified that these sidewalks are part of the municipality’s right-of-way and are not owned by the businesses in the adjacent properties.
Div. 4 Coun. Samanntha Wright asked if there is a possibility to have a local improvement tax imposed on those that benefit from this additional service. Then-acting chief administrative officer (CAO) Kent Robinson replied that the Municipal Government Act (MGA) is very specific on what a tax can be applied for, which administration would look into alongside the cost analysis.
Council then raised concerns about the possibility of setting a precedent for others by adding snow removal services on Centre Street in Langdon.
Administration noted that the background information for the cost analysis will address other areas in the County that could be viewed as part of pathway systems.
“We need to look at the definition of sidewalk and pathway,” Schule said during the meeting. “This connects two major pathways from one end of town to the other end of town. We’re missing a two or three block section.”
Deputy Mayor Crystal Kissel said this direction does not commit council to any decision and it does not hurt to have too much information.
Reached after the meeting, Langdon business owner Carl Wenstrom said the battle around these sidewalks started when he was told a sidewalk would be constructed in front of his business – an agriculture and trucking company called Wenstrom Equipment.
“Driving large equipment all over the sidewalk makes no sense at all,” he said.
After months of fighting prior to construction of the sidewalk, Wenstrom and the County finally agreed on “apron-style” sidewalks that curve down to the road, to allow trucks to drive over them, he said. While signing off, Wenstrom claimed he was promised that the sidewalks would not be his responsibility, but were part of Langdon’s pathways connecting the north and south sides of the hamlet.
Since the County’s new sidewalk clearing bylaw came into effect, that responsibility and liability shifted to Wenstrom and other businesses along Centre Street, he added.
“We don't have a problem cleaning our sidewalk, the problem in today's world is liability,” Wenstrom said.
“What happens when somebody slips on this sidewalk, who's responsible for it? Four months ago the county was responsible for it. Now I'm responsible for it, so I have to take out insurance on a sidewalk that we have over a block of.”
When heavy trucks serviced by Wenstrom Equipment drive over a skiff of snow on the sidewalk, Wenstrom noted it becomes icy. As the biggest stakeholder on the street, he said, had he known the issues would evolve into a battle of responsibility and liability, he would have fought against the construction of the sidewalks with lawyers.
Part of the problem is that the councillor who brought the issue forward is also a business owner along Centre Street, and Wenstrom worries that the public is so focused on Schule not wanting to clear his own sidewalk that the issue won’t be taken seriously for others who are impacted.
In response to the concerns about a possible conflict of interest, Schule told the Rocky View Weekly that his business only makes up a small part of the area impacted by the snow removal issue. He added he could have made a motion to exclude himself.
“The only time there's a conflict is if I'm benefitting myself only. I'm such a small percentage of this,” he said. “A conflict of interest has to do with financial gain. I don't see a financial gain. I own two lots, but it's one title, it's one shop.”
Schule added he owns equipment to clear snow from his parking lot, which he also uses to clear the sidewalk. He mentioned that he already has sidewalk insurance for his property.
Prior to the bylaw change, Schule said he often cleared the sidewalks himself before or in between the County clearing it. There is no benefit to him, he said.