Edmonton’s ‘Snow Dirt Mountain’ grows as winter lingers over Alberta capital

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

When I was growing up in Calgary in the pre-global-warming 1960s, a sure sign spring was the odour wafting through the neighbourhood of a winter's worth of thawing dog poo in backyards uncovered by the melting snow.

I don't miss that, living now on the balmy Wet Coast, but I confess I wouldn't mind seeing Edmonton's impressive Snow Dirt Mountain.

The National Post says the man-made burg accumulated from a winter of city snow-clearing operations is estimated to be 200 feet high, and growing as Edmonton's winter lingers. A YouTube videos show bulldozers lumbering up the slope.

Edmontonians take it for granted.

"I've seen pictures of it," longtime resident Anne Spiller, who says she's "older than sin," told the Post. "But I don't see that it is anything exceptional."

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It's called Snow Dirt Mountain because it's a melange of snow and street debris, including sand from road-sanding efforts and debris picked up by snow plows, such as car parts and concrete chunks ripped from sidewalks during clearing operations.

"We recycle the sand we use on our roads and the guys on those crews in the spring find coins — but nothing to get rich off of," says Bob Dunford, Edmonton's director of roadway maintenance.

The mountain, visible from a busy ring road, is one of five snow dump sites the city uses. Dunford, like Anne Spiller, shrugs it off.

“What’s been getting us this year are the unpredictable temperatures,” he told the Post. “We had a couple of January thaws — which never happens — but as soon as March hit it was right back into winter.

“But I have to tell you that the snow mound is nowhere near as big as it was in the spring of 2011. That’s the year where it became famous. It was twice as big then as it is now. 2011 was our winter for the ages.”

The mountain usually melts away by mid-July, Dunford said, although in 2011 it lingered until mid-September.

Edmonton estimates it clears an average 800,000 cubic metres of snow from city streets each winter but easily exceeded that in the 2010-2011 winter, reaching 900,000 cubic metres by January 2011.

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All wintery Canadian cities have snow dumps. Montreal, for instance, clears an average 12.5 cubic metres of snow in an average winter, about 325,000 truckloads, the Montreal Gazette reported in January. About half is taken to snow dumps around the city and 30 per cent is fed into chutes that empty directly into the city's sewer system. The rest is trucked to a disused quarry.

Of course, not all, not all cleared snow comes from public streets. Calgary in 2011 barred private companies that clear parking lots and such from depositing snow at public sites, the Calgary Sun reported.

Private contractors were upset but the city said the free service cost taxpayers about $400,000 a year. Alderman Andre Chabot said they can make other arrangements, like getting a permit to dump on vacant land.