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Cities revisit de-icing methods

Dangerously icy roads caused more than 300 traffic accidents and eight deaths in Minnesota over the holiday weekend, prompting some city street departments to examine their deicing methods.

A mound of salt
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Dangerously icy roads caused more than 300 traffic accidents and eight deaths in Minnesota over the holiday weekend, prompting some city street departments to examine their deicing methods.

The issue at hand: whether to use salt or sand in the fight against slick streets.

While the trend is for cities to switch from sand to salt, Moorhead uses a mixture of both, according to Chad

Martin, the city's operations manager.

"We put salt in to keep the sand from freezing," he said. "Otherwise, the sand pile will be a big old brick."


Dilworth Maintenance Supervisor Don Vogel said his department uses a similar mixture to Moorhead's combination of 10 parts sand to one part salt.

"It's a practice we've been using that's worked out well for us," Vogel said. "Once the city grows more, maybe we'll use more salt."

Vogel said heavier traffic creates a stronger need for more salt, but for a town of 3,650 people, the mixture is fine.

Cost is also a factor, Vogel said, noting that the salt and sand mixture costs Dilworth about $8,000 to $10,000 a year.

Salt is more expensive, about $55 a ton compared to about $20 a ton for sand, said Alan Weigel, operations manager for Fargo's street department.

Weigel said the city usually takes several different methods to tackling ice.

Prior to a snowfall, a salt brine spray, mixed with a rust inhibitor, is sprayed onto the streets, making a barrier on the street surface from snow and ice. After it snows, a plow comes through to rid the streets of most of the snow.

The brine machine and sprayer are new to Fargo. The city converted a tanker truck to apply the salt brine spray to streets.


After that, it's on to the sand and salt mixture, Weigel said.

"We're just putting enough salt down to stick and then the sand gives us our traction," Weigel said.

Fargo rarely resorts to an all-salt application, he said.

Both Martin and Vogel said the current sand and salt mixture doesn't cause any extra work in the spring for street cleanup.

As for the straight salt application, "the salt is awful hard on the boulevards," Martin said.

But sand is falling out of favor with many Midwestern cities because it fills in wetlands and ponds, as well as creates an extra mess when the snow thaws in the spring.

Martin said salt also has similar detrimental effects on the environment.

"Salt goes gown the storm drain and out to the river," he said. "Sand has a smaller impact."


Neither sand nor salt is a perfect solution.

Sand requires repeated application and extensive cleanup. Salt can hurt the environment by ending up in streams and rivers, killing fish and plants.

St. Paul uses strictly salt to melt ice on their roads. Minneapolis uses sand only on its residential streets.

"Up here in Fargo, we're probably a lot more lenient (with ice) than they are in the cities," Weigel said. "Different philosophies, different situations dictate what you use."

Martin said the unseasonably warm weather has created consistently icy streets in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

"It gets just warm enough to slick it up," he said. "It's almost better to stay at 20 below."

As for the increase in traffic accidents in the area, Weigel said that's partly to be expected.

Whether you're using strictly salt, a salt-sand mix, or brine application, "you're not ever going to get away from slippery conditions," he said. "It's just a way of life up here."

Salt vs. sand

Reasons for salt:

- Sand that is carried away with snowmelt or rain can cloud rivers and streams and clog storm drains and ditches.

- When sand is ground between tires and the road, it forms dust that can affect people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

- Salt clears pavements faster and costs less overall when the time, labor and fuel spent on sand cleanup are considered.

- Sand is easily moved

to the side of the road by vehicular traffic, where it collects oil, grease, and

other automotive byproducts.

Reasons for sand:

- Too much salt on roadways and sidewalks can be carried into storm drains and local waters when snow melts, harming wildlife and damaging plants.

- Salt is more expensive than sand, about $55 a ton compared to $20 for sand.

- Salt attracts animals, including moose and deer, to the roadside, where they can be struck by traffic.

- Along the shoulders of roads, salt damages vegetation and soil, leading to erosion issues.

- Kim Winnegge

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kim Winnegge at (701) 241-5524

Cities revisit de-icing methods Kim Winnegge 20071227

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