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Departments have road salt piling up because of mild winters

Published: Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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DeKALB – Salt domes throughout DeKalb County are overflowing after a mild 2012 and only minor icing in 2013.

While the county and many municipalities and townships had hundreds of tons of salt left from the 2012 winter, officials still ordered tens of thousands of dollars worth of salt to take advantage of lower prices and build stockpiles.

DeKalb County Engineer Nathan Schwartz said road officials need to play somewhat of a guessing game when it comes to ordering salt because contract orders are due by March before the next winter. Once contracts are submitted, the purchaser must take at least 80 percent of what was ordered.

The county, with salt bins already at capacity, must accept at least 6,400 tons of salt this year from its $475,000 order of 8,000 tons. Schwartz said he expects to use enough salt and sell enough to townships to avoid overfilling the domes, but he might need to tarp excess salt outside.

Schwartz said the county has used about 450 tons of salt this winter, mostly to combat icy conditions Jan. 13 and 14.

“We ordered an amount of salt knowing we had our bins totally full,” he said. “Because each year we can anticipate that salt prices are not going to get cheaper.”

Some municipalities are using more salt than normal because of the excess on hand.

Fred Busse, public works director for Sycamore, said the city has used 580 tons of salt this winter even though the department covers 87 miles of road compared to the county’s 200 miles. Still, the 580 tons are 10 percent less than what Sycamore used at this time last year, and an overflow pile of salt has not been touched in almost a year.

Busse said the city spent $65,000 on salt, half of what it ordered last year because of the overflow on hand.

“It’s been a savings,” he said. “It allows us to put more into our street maintenance program.”

DeKalb hopes to follow suit next year, but Mark Espy, the city’s street operations director, said he ordered the same amount of salt this year even with an overflow of 400 tons of salt.

Espy said he stayed the course on the order because 400 tons is not enough to cover even one snow or ice storm. If the 2013 winter remains as mild as 2012, Espy said he would likely slash his request in half for the next order.

“It’s the driest stretch of winters I’ve seen in 22 years,” he said. “But there is still a lot of time, and we could always have a February like two years ago.”

Despite the mild conditions, Schwartz and other road officials said they still hear some complaints about poor conditions. Although there is more than enough salt, the county’s highway department is small compared to its neighbor to the east.

DeKalb County has 12 vehicles for 12 routes, each responsible for both directions on single-lane highways. Kane County’s department, which covers more than three times the mileage of DeKalb, has 29 vehicles to cover 20 routes, said Bill Edwards, maintenance superintendent.

Edwards said the department can deploy multiple vehicles to cover multilane roads such as Randall Road.

For the size of DeKalb County, Schwartz said the department is sufficiently equipped and does a great job.

“In a small storm, we’re going to have those roads cleaned up the same day,” he said. “If it’s an ice storm, it’s going to take a little bit longer, and it could take a couple days if it’s a storm with a lot of blowing and drifting. I think most people understand that.”

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