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City stockpiles de-icer during dry winter

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No mountain of gold, but stockpiled de-icer will save the city money long-term. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs
  • No mountain of gold, but stockpiled de-icer will save the city money long-term.
Those who detest driving on snow and ice can count themselves lucky this winter. There hasn’t yet been a significant snow event that’s required a full call-out of city snowplows and sand trucks working round the clock to clear roads.

For motorists that’s meant escaping the perils of icy roads — Police Lt. Howard Black reports the department has reverted to “cold reporting” for drivers involved in crashes amid storms only three times this season: Oct. 31, Nov. 7 and Jan. 21. For the city, it’s meant saving money. Dollars originally budgeted for snowplowing are now being used to acquire and stockpile salt-based de-icer. In the past, the city has used mostly sand to prevent cars from slipping on icy roads, but Public Works Operations and Maintenance Division Manager Corey Farkas says the switch is good for the budget and the environment.

The switch was made possible after the city retooled its facilities last year to allow storage of a salt supply. Extra money not used for treatment of snowy roads was then applied toward purchasing a supply of salt mixture.

“By creating this strategic reserve of roadway salt, we protect our community from the spikes in demand for and limitations in supply of this critical resource,” Farkas writes in an email.

More importantly, he says, a stockpile allows the city to shift from sand to a de-icer mixture, which saves the city money in several ways. Farkas explains that while de-icers melt snow pack and ice and later dissolve, sand is left behind. After the snow clears, the sand has to be swept up and disposed of, in accordance with environmental regulations. If another storm moves in before it’s removed, the sand builds up.

“This is a problem for several reasons,” he says. “First, the built-up sand can migrate into our stormwater system, adding to our Drainage Maintenance Team’s work in maintaining the system. Second, while cheaper on the front end, utilizing sand is actually more expensive, due to handling the material multiple times and dump fees.”

The city pays “higher than normal” dump fees, Farkas says, because sand used as a traction device on roads is classified as a “profiled” waste, due to oils and other substances mixing with it, which requires special handling at a dump site.

Then there’s the “brown cloud” that can result when sand is ground to a powder by traffic and pollutes the air.

However, de-icer itself has environmental consequences, such as seeping into waterways or damaging vegetation along roads. Asked about that, city spokesperson Kim Melchor says the product the city uses “is one of the safest ones on the market.” The material comes from a halite deposit in Utah; it’s a blend of complex chlorides, with trace minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc, which, she says, helps minimize effects of sodium chloride on the environment.

In 2018, $1.1 million is budgeted for snow material, Farkas says, and officials hope to spend $250,000 in the coming months to completely fill two dome storage structures. One dome is full and the other is half-full.

“Shifting to de-icer will save money on sand clean up and makes sense from an operational aspect,” City Councilor Andy Pico says in an email. “Taking advantage of buying in advance also saves scarce dollars.”

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