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Uncommonly cold winter has Vancouver fire halls offering residents free salt

Last Updated Jan 4, 2017 at 6:00 am PDT

A woman pushes a stroller on an ice-covered street in Vancouver, Tuesday, Jan.3, 2017. An unusual bout of snowy winter weather has confounded residents of southern British Columbia, resulting in unplowed streets, icy sidewalks and grumbling residents who have to drive or walk in the chaos. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER – Vancouver is giving away bucket loads of free road salt to residents as an unusually cold and snowy winter torments the traditionally temperate West Coast, turning some streets and sidewalks into impromptu skating rinks.

Jerry Dobrovolny, Vancouver’s general manager for engineering services, says 10 fire halls will have de-icing salt available starting Wednesday for locals who can’t find any at local stores.

So far this winter, the city has gone through about 7,000 tonnes of salt, which is seven times the average amount used in each of the previous two winters.

“I’m confident right now that we’ll have enough salt,” Dobrovolny told reporters outside city hall on Tuesday. “But we’re using an awful lot of it, and we’re using all of our resources to get more.”

Last month, Vancouver was hit with its first significant snowfall in more than two years. It was followed by several more rounds of snow and a plunge in temperatures that Environment Canada forecasted would not lift until mid-January.

To deal with what Dobrovolny described as the “unusual, sustained, cold weather pattern,” Vancouver has halted all non-emergency construction and reassigned more than 300 city workers to various weather-related jobs.

About 150 additional staff are helping salt, sand and plow residential streets. Around 115 people have been deployed to help sanitation crews collect refuse and about 50 more will help enforce a bylaw that requires businesses and residents to clear walkways by 10 a.m. the day after a snowstorm.

Dobrovolny could not say how many tickets had been issued, but said the city had launched 36 court actions so far, mostly against strata councils and businesses. Residents and businesses are typically given written warnings before being ticketed or taken to court, he added.

A flurry of photos and videos posted to social media appear to show ice-ridden roads and walkways across Vancouver, as well as some residents lacing up their skates for a game of hockey or a zip around rink-like roadways.

Anna Marie D’Angelo, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health authority, said the number of emergency department visits at Vancouver General Hospital are not out of the ordinary for this time of year.

“In Vancouver, unless you have a long cold snap, you don’t start to see the people who are kind of frail and unsteady on their feet … go out in this kind of weather,” D’Angelo said. “They stay home.”

For people with mobility restrictions, including residents who are older or who have a physical disability, precarious sidewalks pose a serious hazard, said disability advocate Jane Dyson.

Dyson said she can’t remember such challenging winter conditions in the eight years since she became executive director of Disability Alliance B.C.

“We all know that Vancouver and the Lower Mainland is not used to snow, but we’ve had this snow now for three or four weeks and the sidewalks continue to be treacherous,” Dyson said.

“I’m not a person with a physical disability but I’m actually nervous to walk on some of the sidewalks around where I live. It’s just so icy.”

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