Evanston’s sodium solutions

Ben Geier

The business of street salt is not as simple as the stuff on your table. In fact, it can be a little slippery.

The city of Evanston is facing a potential crisis if this winter turns out to be as severe as the last, city officials said. The Streets and Sanitation department currently has 8,600 tons of salt committed for use in 2009, according to the city’s Web site. That’s 3,000 tons more salt than Evanston uses in an average winter but 2,000 tons fewer than the amount used last year – one of the snowiest winters in recent years.

“It could happen again,” said John Burke, Evanston’s director of public works.

Preparing for the worst, the city is taking a number of steps to make sure the salt supply stretches as far as possible.

“What we’ve been doing is putting in some significant conservation methods early in the season,” Burke said. “That’s helped tremendously.”

These salt-saving procedures include modifying the equipment and repairing small holes in “salt domes,” large structures where salt is stored, according to the city’s Web site. The city is also pre-wetting the salt with GEOMELT, a liquid de-icer, before the salt hits the streets.

The de-icer not only makes the salt more effective but also stops it from bouncing off the road, Burke said.

“It’s a tried and true method,” he said.

All of the new measures are reliable, Burke said. Rather than creating new techniques, Evanston is using methods employed by other cities.

“They’re not innovative,” he said. “They’ve been used in a lot of municipalities.”

In addition to implementing technical changes, Evanston is adjusting how the Streets and Sanitation department uses its employees’ time.

“We’re trying to get by using less salt and plowing more often,” Ald. Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th) said.

The number of snowplow routes has been increased from seven to nine. The additional routes will allow the plows to move faster and get the snow off the streets more quickly, according to the Streets and Sanitation department’s Web site. That way, the snow won’t freeze, and chemicals won’t be needed to make the roads safe for driving.

Still, Tisdahl said she is skeptical of the new system’s effectiveness.

“Mayor Daley tried to do the same thing (in Chicago), and he’s already given up,” she said.

Burke said he is more confident.

“We were fortunate to be able to get a supply of salt from our longtime supplier, Morton Salt, before the season,” he said. “We looked at the system and saw where we could conserve.”

Regardless of how this winter turns out, the salt situation has refocused city attention, Tisdahl said.

“I used to look at snowflakes and think they were beautiful,” she said. “Now that I’m an alderman, I worry about salt.”

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