Busy December raises worries about road salt supply

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Mike DuPre'
Saturday, December 29, 2007
— John Whitcomb isn’t worried about Janesville’s street salt supply this winter, but he was concerned about it enough Friday to blend sand with the salt to stretch the city’s supply.

Another 6 inches of snow blanketed the city Friday, and city crews were plowing and salting most of the day.

“I’m generally concerned about our seasonal supply,” said Whitcomb, the city’s public works operations director. “If we have a January and February in ’08 like we did in ’07, which were very active, I’ve got some concerns.”

If any of the next two or three months is like December, Janesville is in for a lot more snow and expense and Whitcomb for a lot more concern.

Friday’s snow was the 12th measurable snowfall of the winter and the 11th this month. With more than 26 inches of snow, December ’07 is the second snowiest December in Janesville’s history, trailing only December 2000, when a winter’s worth of snow, 35.2 inches, fell in a single month.

For the calendar year through Dec. 21, Janesville already had spent more than $200,000 over the $808,000 it had budgeted for 2007.

And it has snowed five times since then.

The winter has delivered more than snow, Ben Coopman, Rock County’s director of public works, pointed out.

“Freezing rain really takes a lot more salt than snow,” Coopman said. “If some of these events had been snow instead of freezing rain, we’d be a lot better off. …

“We’re concerned,” he said, “but we have an adequate supply for the time being.”

The city essentially buys its salt in May when it bids on deliveries for the next winter, Whitcomb explained.

The city is bound to buy all that it bids on, he said, so ordering more salt as a cushion against the anticipated weather-created demand could create a storage problem.

The city’s two salt storage sites hold 2,900 tons, Whitcomb said.

The annual salt bid is based on how much is left at the end of the plow/salt season, which runs through April here, and weather projections for the next winter, he explained.

Last May, the city bought 6,250 tons of salt; about 2,500 tons remain to be delivered, Whitcomb said.

The city applies several different mixtures of salt and other materials, including sand, depending on weather, he said.

“We’ve already gone to a salt/sand mix to try to stretch it,” Whitcomb said.

“At this point, we just have to see how January breaks out,” he said. “If things get a little more routine, then we can stop using the salt/sand mixture.”

Like the city, the county bids on its salt in the spring, and last spring, it ordered about 10 percent more than its running average, Coopman said.

The county’s order included a reserve of 1,000 to 1,500 tons, and the county probably will wind up taking the extra salt, he said.

The county also is negotiating to buy more salt.

In the meantime, county crews are tinkering with mixtures and application procedures to stretch the supply, Coopman said.

For instance, where a county road might have been salted in its entirety in the past, crews now are spreading salt only on hills, curves and intersections if conditions are not too severe, Coopman said.

February and March usually bring plenty of snow, but they also deliver additional and more direct sunlight, so Whitcomb doesn’t anticipate a great need for salt when spring is near.

Last updated: 10:07 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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