A flurry of new snow removal contracts issued by the province has led to a shortage of equipment. Black Press file photo

Roads contractor waits for snow removal equipment as winter looms

The newly-hired highway maintenance company serving the region is hitting some bumps in the road when it comes to placing snow removal equipment.

“We realize there is a concern in the community,” said Greg Ehman, contract manager for AIM Roads.

However Ehman said the company has already responded to weather incidents in the area this season, and has contingency plans in place to clear roads including the hiring of a local sub-contractor.

“We are absolutely going to be ready for winter,” he said.

In a recent interview Ehman said the Princeton yard – which AIM purchased from former contractor Argo – was equipped with a loader, grader, truck and some smaller vehicles.

The company has ordered 72 new pieces of equipment, and has purchased used equipment at auctions and from other companies.

Ehman could not provide a dollar estimate, but said “I can assure you it is a significant investment.”

Many pieces of AIM’s new fleet have yet to be delivered, and some of the used equipment is in need of repairs or certification as it was sourced out of province.

He said equipment is now starting to come in and some is in Kelowna ready to be shipped here.

There is a severe shortage in B.C. of snow removal hardware, he said, adding that the required equipment should be in place by the end of the month.

The province has awarded 26 new contracts in the past 18 months, he said.

“That’s resulted in a significant stretch for the providers.”

Regional District Area H director Bob Coyne said the RDOS has been monitoring the progress and concurred “it’s totally a provincial issue….Our provincial let out too many contracts for the available equipment.”

Coyne described the situation as “not a pretty picture…I’ve seen us have two feet of snow on Remembrance Day. They’ve got to get their stuff together.”

AIM was awarded the 10-year-contract for the South Okanagan and Okanagan Shuswap in October 2018 – approximately 3,500 km of roads – and the deal was inked in the spring.

Problems arose early when, again because of a lack of equipment, it failed to meet the May 15 target for road sweeping.

The Ministry of Transportation set a new target of June 15 and requested a corrective action plan, however the second target was also missed.

At that time a ministry representative told Black Press “The ministry is satisfied [AIM] has taken appropriate action to make up for the delays experienced this spring and moving forward will meet our high standards for road maintenance.”

AIM retained all of the unionized workers previously employed by Argo, Ehman said, and has been providing training and licensing upgrades throughout the summer.

The company has also introduced a 24-hour communications centre, contracted with a weather monitoring provider, and increased the number of salt sheds at the Princeton depot.

In response to a request for an interview, the Ministry of Transportation provided The Spotlight with the following written response:

“The ministry has been working closely with Acciona Infrastructure Maintenance (AIM) as they prepare for winter and we are aware of their efforts to secure equipment in the south Okanagan area, which services Penticton, Princeton, Peachland and other communities.

Additional equipment has been purchased by the contractor and will be deployed across the service area as soon as it arrives.

AIM has assured the ministry that they have the graders, plows and other equipment in place to maintain the safest conditions possible for people travelling through the area during winter weather events.

Ministry staff have been monitoring AIM’s response to the winter storm events already experienced on the high elevation routes and can confirm they are meeting the contract’s specifications. There have been no non-compliance orders for AIM in this service area.

Ministry staff will continue to monitor their performance to ensure they are adhering to the terms and conditions of the maintenance agreement as set out by the ministry.

With 26 of the 28 service areas up for renewal across the province in 2018 and 2019, new contractors have experienced minor equipment challenges in various parts of the province. That said, we are confident our contractors are able to meet the contract specifications and provide the safest conditions possible year-round.”

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