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Montreal officials taking heat over icy sidewalks, sluggish snow removal

Over the weekend, the city's new administration issued a mea culpa after only beginning snow-removal operations on Sunday, several days after a storm. Pedestrians make their way down a snow covered sidewalk in Montreal on Thursday, January 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Over the weekend, the city's new administration issued a mea culpa after only beginning snow-removal operations on Sunday, several days after a storm. Pedestrians make their way down a snow covered sidewalk in Montreal on Thursday, January 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Montreal officials are getting an earful from residents over tardy snow removal that has left icy, snow-packed sidewalks across town.

Over the weekend, the city's new administration issued a mea culpa after only beginning snow-removal operations on Sunday, several days after a storm hit the city.

Mayor Valerie Plante's team lost a bet with Mother Nature after they thought a warm late-January weekend would melt the snow and save the city money.

That decision has meant some Montrealers have been moving more slowly, but others have ended up with serious injuries.

Nadya Mirachi said she slipped on a patch of ice near her home in the east-end Riviere-des-Prairies district last Thursday, breaking her ankle in three places.

The 38-year-old mother was fuming from her hospital bed on Tuesday, awaiting surgery while imploring the city to work faster.

"All the bones in my ankle are broken, there are only skin and ligaments holding up my foot," said Mirachi, whose gruesome injury was caught on a neighbour's surveillance camera.

She said her recovery will take several months and she plans to sue.

"I filed a complaint with the city," Mirachi said. "I will go as far as I can (legally), it's not about the money, this affects the rest of my life."

Stefan Overhoff, a spokesman for the ambulance service, said paramedics fielded more calls for spills over the weekend — mainly injured knees, wrists and ankles.

The conditions have led to some Montrealers — particularly older ones — to stay home.

Mary Stark, director of Contactivity, a seniors' centre, said as hearty as her clients are, they don't want to take the risk.

"There's a big concern about slipping and falling," Stark said. "If a senior has a fall, it can be life-changing, it can affect the rest of their lives dramatically so some people have hesitated to come."

One who did brave the streets on Tuesday was Diane Desjardins, who said getting around her west-end Montreal neighbourhood has been tough for weeks because of a lack of snow and ice removal.

"It was very, very frustrating, we (my friends and I) were afraid to fall," Desjardins said. "Even today, the whole sidewalk isn't clean, there's a big patch of ice and nothing (salt) on it ... it's been very tough to get around."

The City of Montreal budgets about $160 million for snow removal every year, enough for about five major snow falls.

On Saturday, Jean-Francois Parenteau, the councillor in charge of snow clearing, tweeted a public apology, calling the decision to hold off cleaning "a bad choice on my part and I apologize.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the city reported more than half of the snow has been removed but a thick layer of ice remains on many sidewalks thanks to the fluctuating temperatures.

The one exception was the east-end borough of Anjou, where borough mayor Luis Miranda ordered the snow removed last Wednesday without getting approval from the city.

Miranda's district boasts clear streets and sidewalks but it also earned the longtime local politician — an independent on council — a reprimand from the central city and a bill for an operation he was not permitted to authorize.

But Miranda, who once oversaw snow clearing under a previous administration, stands by his decision.

He said he'd wait for Plante administration to get its footing before passing judgment, but Miranda said he firmly believes the decision to trigger snow clearing should fall to the local administrators.

"Even if they were announcing mild weather — it's January," he said. "You cannot count on mild weather to get rid of all the water, it's a bit too early."

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