Janesville, low on road salt, will mix it with sand

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Marcia Nelesen
Friday, January 31, 2014

JANESVILLE--The city of Janesville, blazing through its stockpile of salt to combat this season's seemingly endless cycle of snow and ice, has begun mixing salt with sand to conserve supplies.

Crews already have used about 6,500 tons of salt this season. That's already more than the typical 4,000 to 5,000 tons the city uses in an entire season, said John Whitcomb, director of operations.

Janesville isn't the only city experiencing severe winter weather, and a national demand is heightening the shortage, Whitcomb said.

“The deliveries just aren't coming in,” Whitcomb said. “The salt business is a funny business. When it's snowing, everybody wants salt at the same time.”

“The northeast has been pounded, along with we in the Midwest and now down south.”

It is not known when, or even if, the city will get another load delivered, Whitcomb said.

“So we wanted to be a little prudent and cautious here,” Whitcomb said.

At the beginning of the season, the city's two storage sheds were filled with 4,400 tons of salt. It later purchased another 4,000 tons and now has asked to exercise a contract option to buy another 1,600 tons.

Whitcomb put in the order for the remaining 1,600 tons but received only 500 tons. The city doesn't know when the vendor will be able to bring more salt, and that is part of the issue, Whitcomb said.

The city has about 2,400 tons on hand.

Salt costs $56.92 per ton, a cost that has doubled over Whitcomb's 14 seasons on the job, he noted. The city gets its sand from Janesville Sand and Gravel, and it is not expensive.

The mix of salt and sand means snow may not clear from streets as quickly as it would with pure salt because sand has no melting capacity. Packed snow might remain longer on some main streets.

Still, the grit will provide traction for vehicles.

“If the rest of the winter plays out like the first half, it will be a good move,” Whitcomb said of mixing the sand and salt.

“If it's a typical rest of the season, at some point we'll be able to stop using the mix and get back to the normal procedures.”

“We just want to be prudent,” he said. “You never know what's going to get thrown at you, weatherwise.

“This has been anything but a typical season,” Whitcomb said. “We're over 36 inches of snow, which is about our average, with three freezing rain events, two of which were very substantial. We used a lot of salt,” he said.

Whitcomb said he doesn't specifically budget for freezing events, but that might change.

“It seems that may be becoming the new normal,” Whitcomb said.

“For the first half of my tenure in this position, they were pretty few and far between. It seems to be becoming more common. We may need to review our policies … maybe put some (salt in the budget) specifically for freezing rain events,” he said.

“I hope it's not the new normal.”

For now, “We'll plan for the worst but hope for the best—that these deliveries will trickle in or spring will show up,” Whitcomb said.

The winter's fallout will continue in spring when sweepers will need to remove the sand residue from streets.

That could mean an extra week added to the street sweeping cycle.

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