“Obviously, the winter season will be a bit different with COVID-19,” said Jérémie Bouchard, public works director for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR), during his October 14 presentation to UCPR council on winter road maintenance planning for 2020-2021.
Bouchard’s four-page brief highlighted one concern that the public works departments for both the UCPR and its eight-member municipalities have about winter road maintenance. There may be occasional temporary shortages of drivers for plows and other snow removal equipment because of the pandemic. Bouchard’s report noted that winter road crew employees may be absent either because they tested positive for COVID-19 or a family member did, which still means they would have to go into isolation until the condition was resolved.
Members of the UCPR and municipal public works departments held a recent virtual meeting and worked out a COVID-19 contingency plan to maintain winter road maintenance this season. One key part of the plan is a mutual aid agreement between the UCPR and all eight municipalities to help with staffing road maintenance schedules. The agreement does not involve sharing equipment.
The contingency plan also urges recruiting spare on-call drivers for plows and trucks, including offering a guaranteed $200 a week payment for on-call spare operators when they are on active duty. Senior administrative staff may also be called on as needed to work as drivers.
“We will still meet the minimum maintenance standard,” Bouchard said, adding that residents will need to be patient this winter if there are some delays for snow removal on some roads.
The contingency plan also includes a social media information setup that both the UCPR and municipalities can use to keep residents informed about snow removal work during the season and warn of any delays that might result from the pandemic.