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Round after round of winter weather depleting city’s supply of road salt

The subzero temperatures this week may make people think otherwise, but winter is—officially, at least—barely underway. However, city officials have now learned that they won’t be getting any more road salt this season.

On the calendar, the first day of winter was just a few weeks ago, on Dec. 21.

But at the city’s salt barn, the winter is almost half gone—at least, if you go by the level of salt remaining in storage. After this weekend’s bout of winter weather, those stores have been depleted even further.

“We usually order 400 to 500 tons of salt for each winter,” said Excelsior Springs Public Works Director Chad Birdsong.

But as Birdsong told city staffers and members of the city council at a work session Friday morning, there’s just about 300 tons of salt remaining of the 500 tons still waiting to be used.

Birdsong isn’t alarmed. He’s asked his crews to cut back on the salt in the salt/sand mixture they spread on the streets, and concentrate the use of salt on problem areas such as high-traffic hills and intersections.

Every winter poses its own challenges, and Birdsong says that actually, it’s not the big snow events that deplete the salt/sand stores. For sure, a snowfall of 10 inches requires a lot of treatment and clearing, but what really eats up the salt and sand are numerous smaller snowfalls.

“Whether we get two inches or 10 inches of snow, our crews are out there on the streets,” he said, adding that a big storm hits hard, but several smaller storms over a short period will keep crews busy as well, while depleting the snow treatment supplies.

With some of the bitterly cold temperatures this season, Birdsong said salt is sometimes of little use anyway. your Sand adds more potential traction for traffic, but spreading salt is only part of the battle to get the snow and ice off the roads.

“If you just put salt on snow or ice, it will burn a hole right through to the ground,” Birdsong explained, without doing much to touch its icy and slick surroundings. Salt really only activates when traffic and sunlight mix it into the snow, turning it to a briny slush and helping to melt everything away.

And when the weather is extremely cold, the salt doesn’t have much effect anyway.

Birdsong advised that local residents shouldn’t be too concerned. When winter weather hits, he’ll mobilize his crews according to the city’s snow clearance plan. They’ll hit the major thoroughfares and tricky spots first, then branch out to collector streets with a focus on making sure every resident is only a block or two from a cleared street and, finally, into the residential neighborhoods themselves.

And while the salt supplier apparently won’t be sending any more this year, Birdsong said the 300 tons left in the salt barn should be plenty to make it through the rest of the year, especially if the crews ration its use and reduce the amount of it mixed into the sand, which is plentiful and always available.

In fact, he says he’s never had the city’s public works crews run out of salt and sand, and he doesn’t anticipate that happening this year, either.

By Eric Copeland •

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