Island snowplow service losing one truck but MTO commits to same service

MANITOULIN—The Expositor has learned that the Ministry of Transportation’s (MTO) new contractor, DBi Services, will be eliminating one plow from Manitoulin highways this winter.

Formerly, under Belanger Construction, there were six plows and one spare—three in Little Current, two in Gore Bay and one spare located in Mindemoya. According to MTO regional issues and media advisor Gordan Rennie, DBi will have five plows on Island roads and one spare.

“Our maintenance standards have not changed,” Mr. Rennie wrote The Expositor in an email response to questions posed by the paper. “We closely monitor our contractor’s performance before, during and after a storm to make sure standards are met on all contracts. If standards are not met, we assess appropriate financial consequences.”

According to Glen McDougall of Providence Bay, former DBi project manager for the District of Manitoulin, and before that, Manitoulin manager for previous contractor Belanger Construction, those “financial consequences” are incredibly steep. If a road circuit is not plowed within the allotted time, 3.3 hours per circuit, the contractor will be hit with a $5,000 fine for the first 15 minutes of not having the road cleared with much more in fines to come should the clock keep ticking.

“While traffic volumes would place most Manitoulin highways at class five for plowing (and a circuit time of 10 hours), in recognition of emergency services and school route needs we have set the plow circuit times for all Manitoulin highways at class three (a circuit time of 3.3 hours),” Mr. Rennie continued.

Mr. McDougall called the new MTO contract “very strict,” adding that vehicle locators are placed on each plow and that time will be at a premium for drivers with only a set amount of time allotted to get from point A to point B.

“One plow will run from Gore Bay to Honora Bay, Mindemoya and Providence Bay,” Mr. McDougall explained. “Before this, the route went from Gore Bay to M’Chigeeng and return. The driver would go back and sit for awhile before heading out again.”

Routes will run from Little Current to South Baymouth and return; Gore Bay to Meldrum Bay and return; Honora Bay (a new turnaround has just been created at the Bayshore Road and Highway 540 intersection) on to Espanola and return; Gore Bay to the Honora Bay turnaround, back to Highway 551 to M’Chigeeng and over to Mindemoya and back to Gore Bay; and Mindemoya to Tehkummah back through Mindemoya and on to Highway 542 through Spring Bay to Gore Bay and back again (the road from Dryden’s Corners to Providence Bay will also be covered by this route).

“We always over exceeded the standards—that’s the killer right there,” Mr. McDougall continued. “We wasted salt over the years. We did a good job, but we over exceeded too much. The guys are going to have to work their asses off, but it will be good,” he emphasized, noting it will be a performance-based contract with the MTO.

Mr. McDougall stressed that Islanders will not have to worry about the state of the roads with one less plow. “If the company sees they can’t do it, they’ll simply put another truck on the road,” he said. “It’s too expensive for a contractor to screw up. There’s no way for a company to make money by letting things slide.”

“We took pride in getting the roads cleared right after a storm, but we actually had between 12 and 24 hours—DBi will utilize that window of opportunity,” he added.

“Ontario has some of the highest road maintenance standards in North America—we are a road safety leader,” Mr. Rennie wrote, urging motorists to call 511 for information on current road conditions this winter season.

Alicia McCutcheon