With free salt snapped up and little or none available in stores, the City of Vancouver on Wednesday reminded residents of a one-bucket-per-person limit and that those wanting to take advantage of the offer needed to bring their own bucket.
For residents, frustrated after days of – sometimes literally – skating on icy city streets, the city's salt giveaway seemed too little, too late and added to questions about the city's snow- and ice-removal strategies.
"The sidewalks in front of our house are clear, but the side streets are just so bad," said Jenny Puterman, who lives close to the intersections of Knight Street and 33rd Avenue in a neighbourhood with some steep streets.
The icy conditions have made it more difficult for her and her husband, who is temporarily on crutches as a result of a sports injury, to get to work and to get their children to school and daycare.
With the intent of improving such conditions and making streets and sidewalks safer, scores of residents lined up at fire halls to secure some coveted salt, which the city gave away free at 10 halls throughout the city.
But those supplies were quickly depleted, with some people taking more than their allotted share. Fresh supplies were scheduled to be delivered Thursday. The city said it chose those fire halls to hit sites across the city and because they were in areas that had generated a high volume of service requests.
In an update Wednesday, the city said more than 260 staff had been redeployed from other projects to help clear streets, 150 additional staff had been brought on to salt and sand residential streets, additional trucks had been hired and 115 extra staff were working to help clear the backlog of missed garbage collections.
Up until the end of 2016, the city had spent $2.5-million on snow and ice mitigation and used between 6,500 and 7,000 tonnes of salt – far surpassing the roughly 1,000 tonnes a year it used in each of the past two winters.
After another snowy debacle, in December, 2008, and January, 2009, the city reviewed its snow and ice treatment procedures.
A November, 2009, staff report identified key concerns including traction of buses on inclines, snow piles at curbs that blocked bus stops and crosswalks and residential-area sidewalks that were not cleared of snow.
"The most significant concern was that some people became homebound and routine access to food, medicine and other necessities became difficult," the report said.
Similar concerns have resurfaced in recent weeks.
In that report, staff recommended bylaw and ticketing changes to ensure sidewalks were kept clear.
In its update Wednesday, the city said it would redeploy 50 bylaw-enforcement officers to focus on snow and ice and that staff would begin to issue tickets, starting at $250, for failure to keep sidewalks clear, with the focus on commercial properties.
As the scramble for salt continued, BC Hydro announced record power consumption for Jan. 3, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Demand is expected to remain high as the cold snap continues.
Insurance Corp. of B.C. said it's too early to determine the number and types of claims related to snow over the past few weeks, but that call volumes to its Dial-a-Claim service – the first step in starting a claim – are up.
For December, the volume of calls across the province hit 101,578 in 2016, up 16 per cent from 87,900 from the same month in 2015, ICBC said. (Not every call represents a new claim.)
For the Lower Mainland, there were 73,515 calls in December, 2016, up 11 per cent from 65,321 the previous year.
On Twitter, the Vancouver Park Board said it was measuring ice in lakes and ponds, saying the most recent time conditions were deemed safe for public skating was in 1996.
With a report from Frances Bula