Winter is coming, and with it the threat of dozens, if not hundreds of Haliburton County residents quite literally being snowed in and stranded at their homes.
In last week’s edition of the paper, I reported on one local’s concern over the lack of snowplowing options available in the Highlands. Since then, I’ve heard from several more who have been told that their regular operator will not be returning to provide snow removal services this year.
The issue boils down to insurance. Ahead of this latest season, premiums for those in the snow removal business increased exponentially. One operator, who wished to remain anonymous, told me he would have to fork out in excess of $65,000 if he wanted to get insurance for the upcoming season.
That after paying around $3,900 in 2020. Essentially, this increase has priced pretty much every small-time operator out of the game. While this in itself raises many red flags, the real issue is that there’s nobody there to pick up what’s being left behind.
Many of the large operators in the Highlands are already running at maximum capacity, and simply aren’t able to take on new clients. This is leaving many rural residents with a pretty significant problem.
There are a lot of roads sprinkled across Haliburton County that aren’t maintained by local municipalities during the winter. These seasonal thoroughfares have traditionally been tended to by private contractors hired by homeowners to ensure they are able to get in and out of their properties.
Unless something is done between now and our first significant snowfall, many of these residents are going to be trapped inside their homes. Aside from being pretty inconvenient, this also raises several safety concerns.
What happens if, say, there’s a fire at a home on one of these roads, but a fire truck can’t get down there to put it out because there’s two foot of snow on the road? What if one of these residents has a medical emergency and requires an ambulance?
It was rather disappointing last week when some members of Dysart council, after briefly discussing this issue, seemed to shrug their shoulders and absolve themselves of any responsibility over this issue.
While the municipality may not have a legal obligation to step in and try to solve this problem, surely from a moral standpoint they have to do something.
It’s their job to deal with issues like this when they come up.
Coun. John Smith says there is currently around 30 kilometres of rural roads with residences on it that don’t receive snow plowing privileges from the municipality. I’m sure there’s at least that much again spread across Algonquin Highlands, Highlands East and Minden Hills. Dysart has requested a report on this issue be brought back to council for consideration at a future meeting, but it’s unlikely that it will include any tangible solution.
It should be noted, that report is in relation to municipally-owned roads only.
There’s nothing at all being suggested or proposed for privately owned roads. Considering a significant part of our economy depends on people being able to access private roads to get to their properties over the winter, perhaps this is something council should be looking into. Because if we take away the money that these people spend in our restaurants, in our local businesses and at recreational facilities such as ski hills, then many entrepreneurs – most of whom are only just getting back on their feet after closures brought on by the pandemic – will find themselves in a precarious position.
So we find ourselves at something of a crossroads.
Yes, coming up with a plan to deal with this so late in the year will be complicated, and I’m sure the costs will be significant. There’s likely no silver bullet solution, but there have been a few ideas raised that don’t seem to be outside of the realm of possibility.
Perhaps council(s) could look into taking some of these smalltime operators on as seasonal contractors, perhaps they could offset some of the insurance costs.
There is an opportunity to be creative here, to find a solution that suits all parties. That, ultimately, should be the goal.
It’s a municipal council’s job to tackle these kind of potential economy-crippling situations when they arise.
And, honestly, when the alternative option is simply leaving people in the lurch in such a way that endangers their safety, surely there’s only one path forward. To me, it should be a clear one.