Long winter causes Estonian municipalities' snow clearing costs to pile up

Snow clearing in Tartu.
Snow clearing in Tartu. Source: Michael Cole

Even though spring is supposed to be on the way, this year, the Estonian winter seems to just keep on going. High amounts of snow and sleet have been forcing local authorities to dig a little deeper for the extra funds needed keep the streets of Tartu County clear for pedestrians and motorists alike.

In Tartu, the way contracts for the removal of snow and slush are structured, mean the city pays contractors to keep the streets in a certain pre-agreed condition, whatever the weather. In other words, contractors carry out the exact amount of snow removal and ploughing work required to ensure roads remain in a particular state. The only variable component of these contracts, is the part related to the amount of snow, which needs to be removed.

However, this winter, three times as much snow as had been planned for, has already had to be removed from Tartu's streets.

"On the basis of long-term averages, we foresaw in our contracts, that there may be the need to remove somewhere in the region of 13,000 cubic meters of snow during the winter. However, so far this winter, around 40,000 cubic meters of additional snow has in fact had to be removed," said Tartu Deputy Mayor Raimond Tamm.

Tamm added, that taking away the additional snow would cost the city approximately €200,000 more than had originally been expected.

"If it is necessary to remove snow from the streets and the volume stipulated in the contract is exceeded - as I said, we (planned for) a total of 13,000 cubic meters for the two regions - then the contractors will have to be paid separately for that excess volume," said Tamm.

Excess snow in the city of Tartu, once removed, is currently piled up either along Arhitekti tänav or in the area next to Tartu Prison. Anyone who wants to remove snow from other parts of the city, is permitted to drop it off at the latter location.

However, in Kambja Municipality, on the outskirts of Tartu, the recent heavy snowfall has created additional challenges. Both this year and last, the municipality set aside around €370,000 from its budget to take care of winter road maintenance.

"Last year the actual total spent reached around €500,000 and it looks like there is going to be overspending this year too," said Triin Nõmmistu (Reform), deputy mayor of Kambja.

"We will try to reorganize this overspending, either by using a supplementary budget, or by covering it with funds earmarked for other [issues related to] road transport or general maintenance," Nõmmistu added.

According to Nõmmistu, snow removal in Kambja is a bit more complicated than in the city of Tartu as most of the effort is currently being spent on keeping roads and streets clear.

"We are pretty up to date with our snow maintenance, but the roads outside [Kambja], in the village of Laane for example, have been such a problem for us. Here on the Kambja side, too. If that road gets filled with snow again within an hour, there will be plenty of dissatisfaction", she explained.

 "But we have had all the machines that we own out all the time, and we've also outsourced some of the work to local farmers on top of that, on top of that."

The situation is not quite so gloomy in Elva however. The town's deputy mayor Kristjan Vilu said, in a written comment, that there had been little snowfall in the municipality during the first month of the year, meaning there had been no resulting increase in road maintenance costs.

While Vilu added, that there had been a lot of snow in February, the municipality has not yet received all the relevant invoices from the contractors responsible for the removal, and is therefore unable to make full comparisons with the situation last year.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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