New city program to have volunteers shovel snow for elderly

Minjae Park

Evanston is expanding its efforts to get snow off the streets.

Last Thursday the city announced a snow shoveling program for the elderly and disabled in response to requests from residents unable to clear their sidewalks or driveways.

The program is simple: Volunteers sign up by filling out a form or calling the Levy Senior Center.

Elderly or disabled citizens sign a contract that releases Evanston of liability. They then call the Levy Center or e-mail [email protected] to access a list of volunteers.

“It’s really a matchmaking service,” said Christina Ferraro, Evanston’s senior services manager.

Once the match is made, the requester contacts a volunteer to arrange a time and a fee, if there is one.

Ferraro said about 30 senior citizens have sought help and 20 have volunteered since the city announced the program on its website last week. Residents are responsible for clearing sidewalks by their property within 24 hours of a 4-inch snowfall, according to the city’s website.

“The sidewalks are the primary responsibility of the individual property owners,” said Patrick Sheeran, superintendent of streets and sanitation. He said the city’s primary responsibilities are public streets, city-owned property and downtown businesses.

Evanston is about halfway through its 6,600-ton annual supply of rock salt, Sheeran said, adding that with two months of winter operations left, the city has “ample supplies.”

It’s a situation far removed from the salt shortage Evanston suffered two years ago, when it used more than 8,000 tons of salt by mid-February and resorted to scattering sand on the roads.

“Sand was a material that was turned to by some communities when there was that salt shortage in place and there was really nothing left available,” Sheeran said.

Every year, the city pays Morton Salt Inc. close to half a million dollars for a fixed amount of salt. The city then sells a portion of its pile to Northwestern as part of a 10-year agreement. The city does not profit from the deal.

“The city doesn’t manage any of the properties owned by Northwestern,” Sheeran said. “They have their own fleet for that. They come to our facility here where we store our salt and we load their vehicles.”

Though salt is the city’s main weapon against the snow, Sheeran said it loses effectiveness when temperatures fall to single digits, as they did in Evanston last week.

Evanston also uses brine, a strong saline solution, to defrost bridges, hills and other “more sensitive locations” for immediate impact, according to Sheeran.

“That’s the quickest way to get a salt residual on the pavement that acts on the snow accumulation,” he said.

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