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Icy roads to get less salt service



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Winter is here, time for motorists (and Candy Cane 5K runners) to be more careful. Photo by Trevor Keiser (click for larger version)
December 16, 2009 - With winter's first snow upon us, Oakland County hopes to limit road salt use to about 400 pounds per mile, half last year's level. Local officials don't predict a problem.

Independence Township Supervisor David Wagner said everything should work itself out, and predicts an overall warm winter.

"If I'm wrong, I'll get out there with my own shovel and salt bag, at no expense to the county," Wagner said, laughing.

Springfield Township Supervisor Mike Trout was more skeptical.

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"There are so many variables when it comes to plowing and salting it's hard to predict what the impact of this might be," Trout said. "In a mild winter, 400 pounds per mile could be excessive, but apparently the state believes 450 is acceptable so I guess we will just have to wait and see."

Clarkston City Manager Dennis Ritter said the change shouldn't have a significant impact.

"Last year, the city reduced the salting of its own streets because of the large increase in the cost of salt and to limit overtime expenses," Ritter said. "We experienced no problems. It is the same strategy for this year. But remember, we're not in charge – Mother Nature is."

Road Commission of Oakland County approved the new "Sensible Salting" policy to to save money and help the environment, and shouldn't much reduce safety, said Board Chairman Richard Skarritt.

In addition to less salt, RCOC will do more "wet salting," mixing salt with water in the trucks so that, when it hits the ground, it will be more efficient in melting snow and ice.

"Pre-wetting" 400 pounds of salt makes it as effective as 500 pounds of dry salt, Skarritt said.

The change was based on recommendations made by the Salt Institute, an Alexandria, Va.-based non-profit salt industry trade association to help reduce salt runoff from roads into drains, lakes, and rivers.

Also, new Michigan Department of Transportation rules allow no more than 450 pounds of salt per mile on state highways.

Road commission plowing will also take longer this year, due to cuts in staff and equipment.

"In the past, we had 190 employees available to drive snowplows and salt trucks in the winter," said Skarritt. "Today, we have 150. That's a 21 percent reduction in available drivers."

Funding cuts also mean slower truck replacement, he said.

Skarritt warned motorists to drive safer than ever this year, and to not assume a road will be plowed or salted just because it was in previous years.

Patrick is a writing student at Clarkston High School.
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