Town of Fort Frances cleaning up after snowy winter, spring thaw

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

The weather of the last day or two might not feel like it, but believe it or not, spring has officially arrived. This winter was snowier than average, causing Fort Frances snow clearing crews some headaches.

Manager of Operations and Facilities for the Town of Fort Frances, Travis Rob says it wasn’t the amount of snow that made clearing difficult this winter but rather the frequency of the snow events.

“It’s not necessarily how much snow we get, but it’s more when we get it and how much we get in each storm event,” Rob said. “This year we didn’t have any 10 inch (25 cm) snow falls we had a lot of three or four inch (7-10 cm) snowfalls in fairly quick succession.”

Rob says the pattern in which snow fell this winter meant that the amount of time snow clearing crews had to clean up was limited after each snowfall.

“The problem was,” Rob said. “That we didn’t have long periods between the events to get ahead in terms of snow removal. Lane pile removal, dead end snow removal, things like that.”

Because there was a lot of snow left around when the melt finally hit in the early weeks of March it made for a few wet days.

“Once we got into March, we started to see melt, particularly last week,” Rob said. “I would have wished that we were further in terms of our snow removal activities, we just haven’t had time through the winter to really devote to that because we’ve been having these small events every few days. Mother Nature will do what she will do.”

As the melting started over the last few weeks people around town would have noticed large amounts of water or big puddles.

With regards to the amount of snow still on the ground, Rob says that there was more down at the start of March than there was in 2014, the year Fort Frances experienced disastrous flooding.

“We actually had more snow accumulation on the ground March first of this year than we did March first of 2014.”

Rob says there are areas around town that they are aware of that have poor drainage as well as areas with frozen catch basins and drainage pipes.

“Those are the areas that we try to really focus on for snow removal in the springtime,” Rob said. “To try to mitigate any overland flooding that may result as a lack of infrastructure. We did get to some areas we didn’t get to all of them.”

Rob says he feels the storm drainage system handled the early March melt off well, but it might have been better had it been slower.

“I would have preferred it to be a little slower than it was last week,” Rob added. “But I’m at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

Rob said even now a while into the more mild weather there are still pipes and basins that need some manual thawing out. Town staff go around to each of the frozen drains or pipes and use steam to help get the water draining.

Rob did say that he is happy that the mild weather stayed the way it did so there was no need for repeat defrosting of pipes.

“The nice part about this particular melt so far, it has been sustained mild weather,” Rob said. “A lot of times what will end up happening in the melt season is you’ll have a day where it’s five above, sun shining, melting lots of snow. Then we’re running around steaming catch basins trying to get pipes flowing and get water moving. Then that night it will go to 10 below and all that work that we’ve done in terms of opening catch basins, everything freezes up at night and we start again from scratch the next day.”

What also gets uncovered as snow and ice melt is road damage. Rob says there are two main causes of potholes in roads around town – pavement failure and required work under the road.

“There’s kind of two in two situations that result in potholes,” Rob said. “One is just the old road surface failing. Typically it’s failing due to any number of different reasons. One of them may be poor drainage. So once we start steaming catch basins we have a crew out doing pothole patching because one goes with the other.”

The other kind of pothole is damage to roads when infrastructure like water and sewer lines need repairing.

“The other issue is in the event that we’ve had a water main break or sanitary sewer issue and we’ve had to dig the road up through the winter, we haven’t had a chance to pave those excavations yet,” Rob said.

Rob said an asphalt contractor is expected in town in early to mid June to do the first round of road patches, but until that happens town employees will be working on areas where major work happened almost daily to ensure the road is kept in good shape.

Rob said there are also currently plans for a few major road projects this summer pending funding and tenders. Mowat Ave. from Scott St. to Second St. will receive a full reconstruction. That project is out for tender now. Other projects with funding pending are Kings Highway between Pit Rd. and Oakwood Rd. as well as Sinclair St. Between Armit Ave. and Victoria Ave.