A Wenona Lake Road resident says she “doesn’t know what she’s going to do” this winter after many small-time snow plow operators have shut down, leaving her and dozens of other homeowners in limbo.
Phyllis McCulloch has lived east of Haliburton for more than 20 years. Every winter, she has had someone clear her driveway. Many of her neighbours have done the same, some even going so far as to have private plows clear their roads, which are considered seasonal and not tended to by Dysart et al township.
Almost all of those long-standing arrangements ended earlier this year, McCulloch said, after a massive increase to insurance rates made it unfeasible for many operators to continue.
“It’s unbelievable what’s happening. We know the situation out here, that many of these roads were put in some time ago and aren’t up to standards today to even be able to hold the big municipal snow plows, so we’ve always taken care of it ourselves. We had to if we wanted to get in and out of our homes during the winter,” McCulloch said, speaking of close to 20 homeowners surrounding Little Dudman Lake. “Now, insurance rates have gone through the roof, so a lot of these guys just can’t afford to do it anymore. The numbers involved would make your ears ring.”
In speaking to her local operator, McCulloch said she was told costs had gone from around $5,000 in 2020 to as high as $70,000 for 2021. The Highlander was not able to obtain numbers relating to insurance costs when talking with local operators.
Having usually paid $35 per plow for her driveway, McCulloch said that, for her usual operator to continue, that price would have to increase four or five times.
“Initially, we were all in favour of paying a little more money to keep things going and help cover the increased costs. Then we found out what the amount was and there was just no way we could do it. We would have all had to mortgage our homes to pay it,” McCulloch said. “So, right now, everyone is in a bit of a panic, especially some of our older residents. A lot of us are having to make the decision whether we leave our homes for the winter, or basically be stuck and [snowed in] for months on end.”
One local insurance provider said it’s not an uncommon problem in today’s market, noting many insurance providers are taking a harder stance on snow removal operations. In many cases, the increased premiums far outweigh the income most smaller operators could expect to receive.
McCulloch says she’s been in contact with between 10 and 15 operators that are continuing services but none are taking new clients.
At a Nov. 9 council meeting, Mayor Andrea Roberts said it was a big issue many community members have never had to face before.
“The timing of this is pretty dreadful,” she said. “It may be a sunny day right now, but [the snow] is definitely coming.”
Ward 4 Coun. John Smith felt it was the municipality’s responsibility to offer some kind of respite or support for homeowners given the township owns those roads.
“It is late now to rearrange our snow removal crews for the winter, but I’d like to see us get a report,” Smith said. “We have about 30 kilometres of public roads that are not maintained during the winter … if it’s a public road, how did we arbitrarily decide that certain roads aren’t going to get plowed during the winter? Those people are paying the same taxes as people on public roads that do get plowed during the winter. To me, it is not clear as to why we don’t provide year-round maintenance service on these roads.”
McCulloch added it poses a significant problem for property owners relating to home insurance. If roads or driveways are not cleared to a point that emergency services such as fire and ambulance, and utility workers can get access, they would be in violation of their insurance agreements.
“I would love to be here for the winter, but if I can’t get anybody in to do my driveway, I’ll have to think twice. A lot of these people don’t have that option. They’re going to be here. They need some level of service.”