These suburban 'snowfighters' are worth their salt, institute says
It seems there truly are awards for everything -- even the safe and sustainable use of road salt.
The Salt Institute -- based in Naples, Florida, of all places -- presents an annual award to "Snowfighters" who smartly balance road salt use with conservation to benefit drivers and the environment.
Suburban winners say it's a serious business, this Safe and Sustainable Snowfighting Award, which includes a 71-question application and a site visit not unlike an audit of winter operations. The Salt Institute wants the award to be not so much pat on the back, but a tool to help agencies evaluate and improve their practices, said Wilfrid Nixon, vice president of science and the environment.
In Illinois, all seven winners hail from the suburbs, with the DuPage County Division of Transportation, Ela Township Highway Department and Mundelein Public Works and Engineering receiving recognition for the first time in 2018. Also recognized were Geneva, Lake Zurich, Spring Grove and the McHenry County Division of Transportation.
Officials in Geneva, which has received the award six times, say it comes down to several practices that lessen the environmental downsides of excessive salt use that can be harmful to aquatic life.
So in Geneva, public works crews store salt in a covered facility on an impervious surface, use calibration to ensure their trucks aren't dispensing too much salt too fast, train drivers to understand when and how to best apply salt to de-ice roads, and pre-treat streets with liquid salt brine to help prevent icing in the first place, spokesman Kevin Stahr said.
DuPage officials have followed such practices for a dozen years, even computerizing the output of each truck in their fleet of 40 and using three different liquid solutions -- sometimes mixed into custom blends -- to help melt ice at different temperatures.
"We try to limit what we use so we don't affect the waterways," said Jeffrey Pieroni, manager of highway operations.
Management of salt distribution is one of the practices the Ela Township Highway Department uses to protect Lake Zurich-area waterways, Superintendent Jeff Thompson said.
"We can turn down the speed near forests like Echo Lake so we're limiting the pollution," he said.
Use of a long-standing salt dome in Mundelein is one of the reasons officials think it was honored.
"There are a lot of salt piles that simply sit in lots covered in a tarp or not at all, which leads to that (salt) getting into the stormwater system and ultimately the water bodies in the community," said Adam Boeche, Mundelein's director of public works and engineering. "So we're very diligent about avoiding that."
When it comes to keeping roads safe and waterways healthy, award-worthy snowfighting must walk a fine line, Salt Institute honorees say.
"There's got to be a balance between safety and the environment," Ela Township's Thompson said. "And that's what we're all trying to find."