By Steve Hubrecht
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Spring is in the air — and so is the dust that inevitably marks the change of season in Invermere.

Forget a groundhog popping out of its burrow and looking for its shadow — here in Invermere local residents have a different time-honoured tradition to let everybody know that winter is finally over: the municipal street sweeper makes its way around town, cleaning up all the gravel and sand left lying on the side of the roads after the last bit of snow, sending up small clouds of dust as it does.

While most residents are glad to have the roadside sand and gravel gone, few enjoy the small clouds of dust getting kicked up. Alas, there is little the district can do and Invermere residents who are upset  can at least be thankful they don’t live further north, in Golden, where the spring dust is considerably worse.

Last week the federal government issued an air quality statement for the Golden area, after it registered a small particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration of 63 — enough to be considered “moderate” air pollution, and more than three times higher than the World Health Organizations (WHO)’s guidelines.

“We are fortunate in that we do not have the natural ventilation issues that Golden has,” Invermere Mayor Al Miller told the Pioneer, adding the situation in Golden is a result of the particular geography of that area, the way the mountains are aligned, and the way air current flows there. “The air here is almost always better than in Golden.”

Nevertheless, Miller was acutely aware that some residents here tend to grumble when the street sweeper goes around.,

“I do apologize. We are doing the best we can. It’s that time of year when the dirt and gravel needs to be cleaned up. We do our best to get on the street sweeping as early as we can, when conditions are a little more damp, so it keeps the clouds down as much as possible,” said Miller. “But this year it’s been a tough winter. There’s been quite a good deal of snowfall and we’ve needed to put down a lot of sand and gravel on our roads to keep people safe. As I mentioned, we do try to do it while it’s damp, but there just hasn’t been a lot of moisture the past few weeks.”

When Miller spoke to the Pioneer, on Tuesday, Mar. 29 he said “there is definitely more street sweeping to do. We ask people to be patient with the dust.” He noted the sweeping typically extends over a period of two to three weeks each spring. Miller added that the only option to keep dust down while street sweeping would be to send water trucks around to spray the roads just ahead of the sweeper, but “that would be very costly to taxpayers and it wouldn’t even be a perfect solution.”