Salt supply good for '2 or 3 years'

PAXTON — The stockpile of road salt stored behind the city’s tool shed on North Railroad Avenue might be around for a while.

With an estimated 600 to 800 tons of salt on hand — and another mild winter possible, at least according to some forecasters — finding a way to put the salt to use might even prove more difficult than clearing Paxton’s streets of ice and snow.

“I suppose that unless we get something terribly bad, we’ve probably got salt for two or three years,” said Randy Swan, superintendent of Paxton’s streets and alleys department.

After last year’s exceptionally mild winter, forecasters have mixed predictions for this year’s cold season. In Paxton, about the only thing certain is the ample supply of salt — more than 300 tons of which went unused last year.

The city ordered 400 tons of salt in preparation for last winter and was required to buy 80 percent of the amount ordered, Swan said. Despite the amount left over from 2011, Swan still decided to order 50 more tons this year “to keep in the good graces” of the state’s Central Management Services, which offers an annual program allowing cities to buy salt at a bulk rate. Swan said the city bought its salt this year at a rate of $64.21 per ton.

“The (salt storage) building’s full,” Swan said,” and between what’s laying outside, we’ve probably got 600 to 800 tons of salt.”

In a typical winter, the city orders 300 tons of salt — enough to both clear the roads and also stock up some for the following winter.

Swan said the mild winter last year left the city of Paxton — along with area towns like Buckley and Gibson City — with far more than it usually has on hand at the start of winter. But he said the salt lasts a long time if stored properly.

“As long as you keep it covered, it will last forever. You just keep breaking it up (after it forms into chunks),” Swan said.

In Gibson City, Superintendent Randy Stauffer is facing a similar situation. The city has about half — 150 tons — of its salt supply left over from last year’s 300-ton order.

Still, the city ordered another 300 tons of salt this year.

Not all of the salt that was ordered has been delivered, Stauffer said, noting the city can get deliveries through June 1 next summer. But it means the city’s salt bin is full, for now, and the city likely will have enough to restock the bin for next year, too.

“We haven’t used any yet,” Stauffer said.

Ready for whatever
The street departments in Gibson City and Paxton are both playing a waiting game for the weather to arrive. As of Tuesday, there was no hazardous weather forecast through the weekend.

This has given the crews time to service their vehicles and get them ready for use, Swan and Stauffer said.

“We’re putting salt spreaders on (the trucks) right now,” Stauffer said.

City workers in both towns will be prepared to work up to 12-hour shifts during severe winter storms, especially if there is blowing snow, Stauffer said.

Gibson City’s public works department has four street department workers to go along with two wastewater workers, two water workers and Stauffer, giving the city nine potential workers to assist with snow and ice removal, if needed.

Four of them can work at a time, as Gibson City has four trucks available for use in clearing roads, Stauffer said.

In Paxton, the city has five street department workers and four water department workers — who serve as backup — available to clear roads. There are four available trucks, plus a fifth if needed, with each holding up to 10 tons of salt.

Typically, following snow and ice storms, two workers will plow and salt roads on Paxton’s east side and two will do the same on the city’s west side. First, however, is the clearing of roads and bridges in the downtown area and roads typically used as school transportation routes, as well as the two highways that run through town (Illinois 9 and U.S. 45).

Unlike in Gibson City, the salt used to clear roads in Paxton is not combined with sand.

“Mixing with sand makes the salt go farther, but then you have a mess after it melts,” Swan said, noting the salt can clog the city’s catch basins.

Stauffer said that in Gibson City, his workers usually use a mixture of one ton of salt for every two tons of sand. He said it works well to help limit the city’s salt usage.

“The downside to that is the more sand you have, we have storm drains everywhere, and we don’t want to plug up our storm drains,” he said.

Snow routes
Both Paxton and Gibson City have designated “snow routes” — streets that must be kept clear following larger amounts of snowfall.

In Gibson City, if there is more than 3 inches of snowfall, the “snow routes” go into effect. In Paxton, “snow routes” go into effect following 2 inches of snow accumulation.

Affected streets have signs posted.

The snow routes mean that any vehicle parked on those streets can be towed at the owner’s expense.

Hoping for the best
Stauffer said he would not mind another mild winter.

“If we have another one like we had last year, I don’t mind too much,” Stauffer said. “But it’s kind of hard to make snowmen without snow, though.”

Last year’s winter was “very uncommon,” Swan said. “Normally, if you have a mild winter, you have a lot of ice, but we didn’t even have the ice.

“It was the mildest one I think I can ever remember.”

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