Road crews trying to make salt last

January 31, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |

WASHINGTON COUNTY — With some residential streets still snow-covered and a likely ice storm on the way, Washington County officials urged caution and patience as county road crews attempt to stretch a dwindling salt supply.

As the storm approached Monday evening, Washington County Director of Public Works Joseph Kroboth III said the county had enough salt to treat roads for 12 to 18 hours once icy conditions begin, but crews would not be pretreating roads.

Because they were conserving salt for the approaching storm, county crews also have not had enough salt to melt the hard-packed snow and ice that still covers some residential streets from last week’s snow, Kroboth said.

“As you can imagine, with all of the demand for salt ... the suppliers are having a challenge providing all the users or agencies with the amount of salt that they need,” Kroboth said.

An order for about 300 tons of salt that Washington County placed the second week in January was delayed until Monday, when the county finally received about 275 tons just in the nick of time, Kroboth said.

That brought the county’s stores to about 300 tons in the central section, and between 100 tons and 400 tons in each of the three outlying sections, he said.

One pass of the county’s entire 860-mile road system takes about 400 tons of material, Kroboth said.

In treating roads, the county’s first priority, as always, will be to support fire and rescue emergency operations, followed by a second priority to treat the primary, heavily traveled roads and a third priority to treat subdivision streets, he said.

“We are just asking for patience from the citizens, and (asking them to) try to minimize their travel as much as they can and for them to please understand we’re doing everything we can to contact every (salt) supplier,” Kroboth said.

Kroboth said he and Ed Plank, the county’s highway department director, met on the issue late Friday night and contemplated hiring a trucking company to go to the Port of Baltimore to pick up salt for the county.

“Lo and behold, even the Port of Baltimore, which is where the salt comes in to the suppliers ... even they had no salt available for people to come and purchase,” Kroboth said.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has agreed to provide some limited assistance to the county, but, though SHA has more salt in storage than the county does, it, too, is concerned about its salt supplies, Kroboth said.

“There’s a possibility that we may be able to get a couple hundred tons more delivered (Tuesday),” Kroboth said.

To stretch out the salt on hand, the county is mixing the salt with stone chips, which will have to be cleaned up in the spring, he said.

Kroboth said the timing of last week’s snow, with heavy accumulation just before rush hour Wednesday, resulted in the snow being packed down by vehicles before plows had come through.

The packed, icy snow then became difficult to plow without first “oversalting,” or applying large amounts of salt, which the county could not afford to do, he said.

“We were trying to conserve salt to deal with emergency situations and hazardous turns and hills, and that kind of thing,” Kroboth said. “Because of that, the citizens may have seen snow and ice conditions abnormal to what our highway department normally deals with.”

County highway crews worked throughout the day Monday with backhoes, front-end loaders and large trucks, trying to shave off some of that ice accumulation, Kroboth said.

Monday evening, those crews went home to get some rest and wait to be called out when icy conditions begin, he said.

The county normally does not pretreat roads, particularly when salt is scarce or when doing so would require overtime, Kroboth said.

However, the state did pretreat Halfway Boulevard with its liquid pretreatment solution Monday, “basically as a gift” to the county, Kroboth said.

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