Perhaps it is ironic that a city named after salt buys large quantities of the stuff to treat its roads. Nevertheless, Saline’s Department of Public Works (DPW) stands ready for wintery weather with four dump trucks, five pickup trucks with plow blades and yes, a mountain of salt.
Department of Public Works Director Jeff Fordice leads a crew of 10 members who work overtime to clear the roads when snow comes. There is plenty of other maintenance work to keep them busy on their regular shifts.
“Our general goal is to keep things passable during the storm and to have clear streets within 24 hours after the storm,” Fordice said.
All roads are prioritized as either major or local.
“The major streets get first attention and most attention and then we will work our way back into the local streets,” Fordice said.
The goal is routinely met for the major roads, but the 24-hour goal is often missed on local roads. The DPW wants to get all the plowing done quickly because it is an inconvenience to homeowners to have snow pushed back into their already cleared driveways. Fordice noted that a few get very angry when this happens.
However, budget cuts have reduced his staff by 40 percent since he became director less than four years ago. Because of this, he has to be careful to pace his crew during a snowstorm so that nobody gets too overworked.
The DPW also clears municipal parking areas and the sidewalks by public buildings. Of course it is the responsibility of homeowners to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes. When they fail to do so, DPW will eventually clear the snow and bill the homeowner.
Occasionally homeowner’s mailbox posts get clipped. When this happens the DPW will repair them at no charge, Fordice said.
Of course DPW also spreads a lot of salt. Though it is corrosive to cars and bad for vegetation, salt is considered necessary to melt ice and keep the roads safe. Mostly they use ordinary rock salt.
But, when the temperature gets below 20 degrees, DPW uses salt laced with a byproduct of sugar beet production. Think of it as sugarless molasses. This more benign organic material is reputed to further depress the freezing point of water allowing the salt to melt ice at lower temperatures.
During the next snowstorm when the plows are rumbling in the night, it’s the DPW working to clear the roads so Saline will stay safe – and salty.