Weather Updates

Less salt, less overtime and less cost for cities

Updated: February 12, 2013 2:41PM

The massive, 4,000-ton tarped mountain of road salt at Aurora’s operations facility on Broadway is left over from the 2011-12 snow season.

And although it’s typical for the city to use 17,000 to 20,000 tons of the stuff in a winter, crews have only put 500 tons down on streets ahead of sparse snow dustings this season, said Brett Weiler, superintendent of the city’s Street Maintenance Division.

As part of a statewide collective of municipalities that Aurora and most Fox Valley towns participate in, Weiler orders road salt in March every year for the next season, for about $59 per ton.

“We cut the order way down this year to 12,000 tons,” Weiler said Thursday.

The city typically orders about 20,000 tons of salt each year and must take possession of the salt by June 30.

But predicting in March what the weather will be like in November is a “crapshoot,” Weiler said.

So Aurora, like most cities and counties around the Fox Valley, is sitting on top of piles of road salt. Tragically, it doesn’t make for as good a sled ride, and cities are scrambling for places to put it.

Kendall County built a new silo a couple of years ago that it shares with some municipalities and township road districts, including the city of Yorkville.

In South Elgin, Public Works Director Chuck Behm said storing the extra salt may become an issue if current weather patterns hold out. The village is required by contract to purchase at least 80 percent of what it normally would.

If there is a silver lining to the economic cloud of lacking snow, it’s the money taxpayers save on street plowing.

According to Christine Schwartzhoff, operations team leader in Naperville’s Public Works Department, the city saved about $250,000 last month when the streets needed far less plowing and salting than usual.

“During an average December, we use 5,000 tons of salt. We have used only 850 tons of salt this (season),” Schwartzhoff said.

Compared to last winter, South Elgin is seeing savings of more than $15,000 on fuel costs and $20,000 on overtime related to snow removal, said Behm.

Public works directors across the Fox Valley said they’re really saving on manpower. Instead of plowing, city workers have been out trimming threes, rehabbing manholes and doing other year-round work.

On Thursday afternoon, Aurora streets employee Jim Gates was grinding down a large tree stump on Park Manor Place on the city’s West Side. This is the first winter in his 20-year career that he’s been working to remove ash trees instead of salting roads, he said.

But no snow is bad news for the 10 contractors the city routinely employs for snow removal.

“It affects all of the contractors. They bank on this,” Weiler said. “That’s their livelihood.”

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