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From salt to beet juice, city prepares for a new snow season

The ElgPublic Works department demonstrate loading salt preparatifor winter.   December 12  2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

The Elgin Public Works department demonstrate loading of salt in preparation for the winter. December 12, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 15, 2013 6:09AM

ELGIN — On Monday the Chicago area set a record for most consecutive days — 281 — without a measurable snowfall, a record building by the day that is approaching almost 10 full months.

Still, this being northern Illinois, snow is eventually bound to fall and accumulate — perhaps not to levels reached during the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011, but to significant or at least shovel-worthy amounts sometime this winter.

To that end The Courier-News asked Dan Rich, Elgin’s interim public services director, five questions about the current snow-free situation and Elgin’s snow removal plans.

1. Do you recall when the last time Elgin crews were plowing the city’s streets?

Records show that we were out for a light snowfall March 2 of this year. Thankfully, it has been quiet since.

While we haven’t closed the books on 2012 quite yet, obviously there will be a substantial difference on what the city spent for snow and ice removal so far this winter and for last winter compared to, say, 2011 when we had the Groundhog Day blizzard.

2. How much snow did Elgin have last winter (2011-2012)?

It was around 23 inches, which is about 12 to 15 (inches) less than an average winter. Still, there were plenty of small events that kept the crews busy throughout the winter.

3. Is this the least amount you can remember?

To my recollection, it is the lightest winter we have had, in terms of snowfall totals. It’s funny, because one tends to remember the really bad ones. The lighter seasons are easily forgotten.

4. What about salt? How much of a surplus does Elgin have?

We’re pleased to say that all three domes are fully stocked and ready to go. We estimate that we have on hand approximately 13,000 tons of road salt and over 50,000 gallons of SuperMix ready to go for our winter needs.

We anticipate using between 5,000 and 6,000 tons of salt and over 100,000 gallons of SuperMix to keep our 328 lanes miles of city streets safe. We have already been out six times this season applying the SuperMix (which is a mixture of salt brine, beet juice and calcium chloride) to bridge decks and roadway surfaces to eliminate pavement bonding, which causes black ice and slippery spots.

The city of Elgin is very fortunate that much like with its water treatment facilities, it benefits from some very good forethought with its ice and snow plan. There are three strategically located salt domes in the city that are stocked every year with enough salt to get through two average seasons.

The addition of the beet juice byproduct a few years ago (SuperMix) has decreased our salt usage by a third. That’s a direct savings of over $100,000 each year to Elgin’s taxpayers. The beet juice mix also improves on our efficiencies and lessens the duration of storm events, which is another cost savings that can be passed along.

5. If we have a mild winter again, what might that mean for storing salt after this coming season?

Salt storage for next winter isn’t a problem. We already have the 2012-2013 allotment on order, which should be just enough to fill our salt domes to the brim for next snow season.

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