Storage Container

Feb. 12, 2008

When most people first hear about “sensible salting,” the winter maintenance principle promulgated by the Salt Institute nearly 40 years ago, they think immediately of the application of roadway salt in the minimum amounts just enough to destroy or prevent the bonding of ice to the pavement to preserve safe winter driving conditions.

When most people first hear about “sensible salting,” the winter maintenance principle promulgated by the Salt Institute nearly 40 years ago, they think immediately of the application of roadway salt in the minimum amounts just enough to destroy or prevent the bonding of ice to the pavement to preserve safe winter driving conditions.

That’s true as far as it goes. Ensuring the application of the minimum amount of salt required for the job has provided enormous environmental benefits. So much so that the latest report on winter roadway materials selection published by the Transportation Research Board finds that salt is the superior choice even when environmental and infrastructure impacts are weighted most heavily and costs entirely ignored.

Snow-fighting professionals know, however, that the biggest bang for the buck in terms of environmental protection comes from investments in proper salt storage.

Unfortunately, “most people” often include elected representatives, particularly in local governments. Unfortunate, because city councillors, county commissioners or county board members and other elected officials hold the purse strings and make the final decision on investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new salt storage structure. And most people certainly include a public willing to invest tax dollars in proven environmental protection and cost-effective winter maintenance service—if they only knew the certain payback for the use of their tax dollars in creating a first-rate salt storage program.

If the most visible principle of Sensible Salting is to use the minimum amount of salt required to keep or restore pavement friction, arguably the most important principles are to minimize the amount of water entering a stockpile and to ensure no salt-contaminated water reaches the groundwater and is treated or discharged as specified in a storage facility’s environmental permit. Adequate storage capacity is another key. The best examples of excellence in storage have been recognized for 20 years in the Salt Institute’s program of that name; winners are spotlighted at .html.

Like most things in government—and certainly most things in public works management—sound long-term planning and creative “stretching” of scarce tax dollars is often the difference between a good idea and a successful project. While some agencies’ past storage practices have placed them squarely in the crosshairs of their state environmental regulators, most have been able to round up the needed funds to stay one step ahead of environmental inspectors even if they are still limping by, envying their neighbors who have been able to do the job right. It turns out these successful agencies employed similar strategies to secure approval and funding for storage programs that not only protect their community ecology but give them a leg up in providing high? quality service to their residents. Perhaps these lessons learned can help your department if “getting to yes” with your local council, commission or board has been a difficult sale to date.

Garage sale

Keeping public works service a step ahead of exploding growth has been no humorous matter in Limerick Township, west of Philadelphia in western Montgomery County, Pa. Public works superintendent Bill Bradford expects the township’s population to jump from its current 20,000 residents to 25,000-30,000 in the next census. Providing quality service to the fast-changing township is the top challenge for the township manager and the Board of Supervisors he reports to.

Limerick uses an average of 1,000 tons of salt every year to keep its 177 miles of roadway safe and available to motorists. But that can spike to 1,900 tons in a severe winter. And that causes problems.

Limerick has been storing 300 tons in a garage bay—under roof, but hardly ideal. At 30% of normal needs, the insufficiency of supply has imposed operational stress. Even during a light winter, the township is required to take 10 separate salt deliveries and sometimes beg salt from neighbors. Bradford worked up the numbers and documented significant additional costs due to insufficient storage.

He determined the most telling argument for improved storage would be the threat to service quality. The stress and strain of managing storms with only 300 tons of salt contrasted sharply with the board’s strong insistence that the township be able to meet its level-of-service objectives for several back-to-back storms. Securing mid-season resupply endangered the desired self-sufficiency. The board really did not want the embarrassment (or the political heat) from failure to keep the roads clear and safe, so dealing with the manifold threats to quality service was the organizing principle supporting the proposed new storage building.

The argument was built on the need for a 3,000-ton storage facility. Bradford made it easy for the Township Board of Supervisors. He proposed to build the facility on the current public works yard, avoiding any political pain associated with developing a new site. Further anticipating neighbor concerns for the aesthetics of the facility, located in a residential neighborhood, Bradford’s design incorporated home-like architectural features nearby homeowners would appreciate: vinyl siding and windows like those in a single-family dwelling, complete with shutters, for example. He also promised the board that his public works crews could do all the site preparation work, leaving only the task of building the building itself to be done by an outside company; that saved a significant expenditure and also helped persuade the supervisors that Bradford understood their challenge in balancing revenues against priority expenditure requirements.

Bradford also recognized that the proposal’s $600,000 price tag could be a tough nut to crack for a board of supervisors facing the pressures of coping with escalating service demands from a steep rise in population. Six years ago, he created a capital fund in his budget to accumulate funds for the storage building. Over several years, while the supervisors grappled with conflicting priorities, the balance in the capital fund kept growing until, finally, the “nut” had a much lower current-year cost and the sale was made.

Castle comparison

Take the case of the village of Carpentersville, Ill., another fast-growing community. Carpentersville’s 35,000 residents live about 60 miles northwest of Chicago. Like Limerick, Carpentersville is governed by an elected board and president; management is directed by a professional village manager. Public works director Bob Cole is responsible to maintain 120 miles of roadways. He uses an average of 4,000 tons of salt each year and could store only 500 tons.

As Carpentersville expanded, one recent chunk was an annexation west of the Fox River. The annexation agreement anticipated mixed commercial and residential development and included zoning for a salt storage structure, even specifying its style. The provision was important because the new area was connected by a single road and bridge, a natural bottleneck whose congestion during winter weather events would make service to the west problematic, often delaying plows by over an hour.

Self-evident need and preapproved zoning gave the proposed $277,000 for a new 1,000-ton salt storage structure a running start. Helping it along was the fact that funding would be from the earmarked motor-fuel tax reserved for transportation projects. Cole anticipated one possible objection to the new site: NIMBY. While neighbors certainly wanted improved winter service, the structure specified in the annexation agreement was not seen as aesthetically compatible with the high-end residential neighborhood. Taking advantage of co-location with a fire station to minimize space requirements, Cole sought and obtained approval from the board of trustees, from the two neighborhood associations and from the previous landowner to change the style to one that fit in better with large single-family homes. While there were lots of hoops to jump through, all parties readily agreed that the architectural revision made the project more attractive.

Walls close in on solution

Hackettstown, N.J., is a growing and suburbanizing rural town of about 10,000 located about 60 miles north of Trenton, just south of I-80, and near the Delaware River border with Pennsylvania. The town’s 10-member work force maintains 33 miles of roadway and uses about 800-900 tons of salt each winter. Until this year, 150 tons of that salt has been stored in a three-sided lean-to structure with insufficient capacity, requiring multiple mid-season deliveries and some suboptimal outside storage. One day, the public works director’s mail brought an surprise from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). DEP presented a thick package of new environmental regulatory requirements including one to minimize storm-water runoff by directing the town to store all its salt in an enclosed structure (with a door, though that requirement was later removed). And DEP set a three-year drop-dead enforcement date, fair warning of the consequences of inaction.

The postman’s surprise, however, did not catch the public works director unprepared. He’d worked closely for years with the town’s mayor, council, and particularly closely with a three-member council public works committee. He prepared a short cover note outlining the regulatory imperative and timetable, the space requirements for a new, permanent storage structure to accommodate a full-year’s average usage and a simple estimate of the project’s $300,000 cost. Though other benefits would accrue, the storm-water rules foreordained approval of some storage structure. The project was approved unanimously, was bid in 2006 and is now complete.

Plan should work

Chuck Williams serves as director of public works for the city of Gladstone, Mo., an independent municipality of 27,000 residents completely surrounded by Kansas City. Williams’ department maintains 200 lane-miles of roadway and typically uses 2,500 tons of salt each winter, keeping both arterials and residential streets safe and passable.

Gladstone is one of those municipalities that takes the admonition to “plan the work, work the plan” seriously. About four years ago, a forward-thinking city council, city manager and assistant city manager developed a master plan for a new fire station, new park, expanded policing and ambulance service and needed public works improvements. The public works projects included replacing the city’s single salt dome, which handled 800 tons of salt, one-third the annual usage, on the basis that inadequate storage volume threatened the city’s vaunted snow and ice service, a point of civic pride.

“When you get hit by a storm, everyone gets hit by that storm and the competition for salt resupply is fierce.” More capacity was required to guarantee good service, the city argued in a bond referendum. Voters agreed.

Along the way, however, the other projects—fire station, police and parks—all jumped ahead of public works in the line for bond financing so that when it came time to build the storage building, the planned project dollars were already depleted.

“There was a silver lining to that cloud,” Williams said.

A required project downsizing forced the department to review its original plans and it found ways to prioritize and economize. The original plan would have accommodated all equipment as well as the salt in the new structure and a washing station. Gone is some of that space, and the washing station is now outdoors, but the new 50-ft x 100-ft barn structure incorporated lean-tos on three sides, providing enough space under cover for all the city’s snow and ice equipment as well as 2,300 tons of salt, enough for a near-normal winter. The total project came in at about a million dollars, including all site preparation and asphalt paving.

Abundant answers

Salt is abundant, but getting it where it is needed and on time is not always easy. The availability of barges, railcars and trucks, the time of ordering and the weather itself all play an important role in salt delivery. Adequate on-site storage capacity makes cost-effective winter maintenance possible. Proper storage eliminates precipitation losses, preserves product quality, keeps the salt readily available for storm emergencies and eliminates the possibility of contaminating streams and wells with salt runoff.

So when you next hear about Sensible Salting, remember that cost-effective and environmentally protective salt applications are made possible by sound decisions to erect and operate proper salt storage facilities.

About The Author: Hanneman is president of the Salt Institute, Alexandria, Va. He can be reached at [email protected].

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