‘We’re cutting it close this year’Cottage Grove Public Works could come closer than it has in years to tapping out its supply of rock salt, one city official said last week, thanks to a taxing first six weeks of winter that has had the city’s plows out far more than at this point a year ago.
By: Jon Avise, South Washington County Bulletin
Cottage Grove Public Works could come closer than it has in years to tapping out its supply of rock salt, one city official said last week, thanks to a taxing first six weeks of winter that has had the city’s plows out far more than at this point a year ago.
Public works’ plows have been busy, called out to clear Cottage Grove’s streets of snow and ice more than 30 times already this season, says public works director Les Burshten. That’s more than half the 47 times Burshten’s crew took to the roads during all of last winter.
And that busy schedule, combined with Cottage Grove’s move to slowly phase out the use of hard-to-cleanup sand, means this winter’s salt supply is drying up faster than officials anticipated.
“We’re going to be cutting it closer this year than we have in many, many years,” Burshten said last week, at the tail end of Minnesota’s second month of meteorological winter. “We may, if push comes to shove, we may go back to blending sand and salt if we have to in areas we had switched to all salt. That’s an option.”
It has been an unusual winter thus far, Burshten said, with numerous small nuisance snowfalls but no large-scale snow event, and nearly a month-long stretch of bitter cold that has kept roads slick.
Public works ordered 2,400 tons of rock salt on the state bid at $41 per ton, ensuring Cottage Grove won’t be shorted and also avoiding the wallet-gouging prices some cities — including Newport — were forced to pay this winter because of a nationwide road salt shortage.
As part of the state contract, cities can also order up to 120 percent of their original requested allotment, meaning Cottage Grove, if needed, can get an additional 480 tons of salt this winter.
That has Burshten feeling “pretty comfortable” that the city will make it until spring without exhausting its salt supply. So, too, does the fact that the coldest days of the typical Minnesota winter have now passed.
“It’s going to start warming up here,” Burshten said, “and then you can use a lot less chemical and more plowing procedure to clear the streets.”
in St. Paul Park
In St. Paul Park, Public Works supervisor Lee Flandrich said the city should be in good shape for the remainder of the winter.
“We still haven’t purchased our full allotment of salt,” Flandrich said last week. “We’re trying to be mindful of the budget; we won’t buy any more than we need.”
He estimated the city would use 300 tons this winter. “We’ve used about 65 to 75 percent of that,” he said. St. Paul Park, like Cottage Grove, participates in the state salt bid.
Public works employees have plowed snow roughly a dozen times this winter, Flandrich said, up about 25 percent from past years.
He said many of the city’s streets have ice packs this year because snowplow operators aren’t hitting the streets early. “We’re trying to cut back on overtime hours,” he said. “That means we only plow during the day, and, because of the extreme cold this year, the chemicals aren’t working as well.”
Cold snap helped Newport conserve
The month of bitterly cold temperatures were actually a blessing in disguise for Newport pubic works director Bruce Hanson. In extremely frosty weather the city typically lays down more sand than salt, a plus for a city that was able to order just half its normal usage this winter.
“We’ve been spreading (the salt) out with sand, thinning it out,” Hanson said. Newport was able to purchase just 125 tons at the start of the winter, down from the normal 250 it stocks for the season. That’s meant a reduction in service and many unsalted side streets.
And while the cold snap helped, the numerous small snow events have made it “a tough winter to be short on salt,” Hanson said.
“These half-inchers like last night kill us, especially when it’s every other day,” he said last Thursday after a light snowfall the night before. “When it’s a big event you go plow it off, sand and salt, and you’re done. But these half-inchers kill us.”
Toni Lambert contributed to this story.
Jon Avise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.