Snow clearing contracts could increase by $6 million

You get what you pay for, says Winter Operations

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Forget the summer heat, the municipality’s winter operations superintendent is asking council to spend some cold hard cash on four snow clearing tenders.

The contracts for snow and ice removal in several HRM communities will be discussed by the Audit and Finance committee on Wednesday, along with an accompanying staff report by winter operations’ manager Darrin Natolino arguing the new services are worth the extra $6 million in operational funding.

This past winter saw the municipality go $10 million over its $20 million winter operations budget, thanks to an unending series of storms that buried streets and sidewalks.

No one was really happy about it.

The increase in costs for snow clearing in these four tenders are a result of several factors, not the least of which is last winter’s hellish weather. The city is also increasing the geography covered within the contracts, and bumping the snow clearing “season” up from 22 weeks to 28.

The contracts will also include new requirements meant to make operations more effective. Conditions for any bidders had to include: a clear demonstration of a specific snow-clearing equipment inventory; the capacity to bucket and haul snow more frequently on smaller, narrow roads; 24/7 coverage availability on-site; the capacity to use brine when feasible; and being able to provide regular communications to Winter Operations (including daily updates and storm plans).

The new contracts also make the winning bidders responsible for their own salt and sand, as well as any damaged infrastructure caused by their clearing. The companies will also now be required to sweep up any traction sand left behind in the spring (which was previously a separate tender).

It’s all supposed to result in some theoretical cost savings to the city. The new expanded geographic area cuts HRM's own coverage in those areas in half. Since there are no plans for cutting back unionized work, it allows HRM to consolidate the city's existing labour and equipment into a much smaller area. The “reallocation of in-house crews” could also result in some reduction of hourly-based contracts—one of the bigger costs for winter operations.

All total, staff expects an annual savings of $2 million a year with the new tenders. That still leaves $4 million to cover this year, which Natolino expects to be offset by any additional operational savings and the use of reserve funds.

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The four-year contracts will run through to the winter of 2019, with the option for annual renewals through 2022. Each year of the agreement will be subject to reviews of performance, service and operational requirements.

The winning bid for snow clearing in Waverley/Cole Harbour/Eastern Passage will go to Ocean Contractors (for a four-year total of $17,459,457). Dexter Construction is to be awarded three contracts for Hammonds Plains/Bedford, Herring Cove/Bayers Lake/Timberlea and Lakeview/Lower Sackville (for a combined four-year total of $29,439,852).

Dexter and Ocean were not only the two lowest bidders, but also the only two qualified bids on the tenders. Ocean beat out Dexter by about 10 percent on the Waverley/Cole Harbour/Eastern Passage contract, while Dexter underbid Ocean on the remaining three tenders by roughly the same margin.

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An external review of the city’s snow clearing operations is expected to come before council by the end of summer.

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