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St. John's mayor says snow clearing after blizzard could cost city extra $5M

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The mayor of St. John's, N.L., says the cleanup after last month's fierce blizzard could cause the city to blow its snow-clearing budget by several million dollars.
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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The mayor of St. John's, N.L., says the cleanup after last month's fierce blizzard could cause the city to blow its snow-clearing budget by several million dollars.

Newfoundland and Labrador's capital was under a weeklong state of emergency after the record-breaking Jan. 17 blizzard that brought more than 76 centimetres of snow in one day.

Mayor Danny Breen said the city estimates its 2020 snow-clearing budget, set for $17.5 million, could be exceeded by up to $5 million, putting the total costs in a range of $22 million.

The estimate accounts for staff overtime, contracted snow removal, vehicle fleet expenses and fuel.

Breen said the ultimate total will depend on weather for the rest of the season and how much disaster relief funding the city may receive from the federal government.

The mayor said the city may also tap into reserve snow-clearing funding of $2 million, use surpluses from previous years or reduce spending, either by delaying new purchases or putting off replacing old equipment. He stressed that residents won't bear the load of the extra costs.

"There will be no reduction in services and there will be no tax increase as a result of this," Breen said in an interview.

He said workers are "still busy cleaning up the city," a monumental task he expects will likely continue until the end of winter.

St. John's budgets for approximately 350 centimetres of snow each year — a total Breen said the city was close to reaching as of Wednesday, while the region was under yet another snowfall warning from Environment Canada.

City workers were playing catch-up from previous weather events by the time the extreme storm hit on Jan. 17, and the cleanup after a Dec. 24, 2019, snowfall also ate into the budget.

Residents have shared concerns about sidewalks covered in ice and snow, forcing pedestrians to share roads with cars. Breen said workers are making their way through sidewalks and a review at the end of the winter will consider new approaches to sidewalk clearing.

"There is frustration, and we're working through the sidewalks and getting there as quickly as possible," Breen said.

"When we're going through our experience from the year, we'll be considering different changes we can make, including to sidewalk clearing."

St. John's is not the only municipality facing budget crunches from the storm, from snow-clearing costs to infrastructure damage.

Mayors from coastal communities including Bonavista and Conception Bay South have also said they are seeking millions in financial assistance after intense storm surge damaged key infrastructure protecting homes and public areas.

Public Safety Canada said in a statement last month it received a request for assistance from Newfoundland and Labrador on Jan. 23 under the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program.

"The Department is now working closely with provincial officials to obtain further information on the timelines and geographic boundaries for the event," the Jan. 28 statement read.

The province also advised residents, not-for-profit organizations and communities to apply for funding under the provincial disaster assistance program last month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2020.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press




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