Snow removal trends: less sand, more salt

Jan 21, 2020
Courtesy of: Town of Camden The Public Works crew piles snow downtown during nighttime winter storms, and then removes it during early morning hours before residents awake.

CAMDEN — Ahead of each incoming winter storm, the Public Works Department lays out a battle plan for clearing 58 miles of town and state roads.

Dave St. Laurent and Rick Seibel presented a detailed explanation of winter storm management to the Select Board Jan. 7. St. Laurent was hired in July 2019 as Public Works director, and Seibel, former director for 35 years, has stayed on as assistant director.

St. Laurent said the first thing he does before a storm is meet with Seibel to come up with strategies based on weather predictions. Next, they meet with the Public Works crew to go over the plan and staffing that includes multiple shifts. Afterward they hold a post-storm meeting.

Getting out early, ahead of the storm, is important, St. Laurent said, because once the snow bonds to the roads it is hard to remove, and takes twice as long to clean up. Public Works stays in communication with the town's police officers, who are always on the roads and the first to see the flakes. "As soon as they see road conditions getting bad, they let us know about it, and we get on it right off," he told Select Board members earlier this month.

Salt is the first line of treatment to prevent snow from bonding to the roads. The use of salt has increased by about 30 percent over the years, according to Seibel, while the use of sand has decreased by nearly 60 percent. While the total amount of salt and sand used each year depends on the storms, the overall goal is to reduce use of both.

Downtown Camden is the only area of town prioritized for salt treatment, while a sand-salt mix is used on the remaining areas, according to St. Laurent. Salt clears the roads faster, improves mobility, reduces accidents and reduces spring clean up, he said. Issues with the overuse of salt are migration into steams and lakes that can cause harm to plants and animals, and accumulation in soil that builds up over time and can have negative effects on acquifers, wells and vegetation.

Plans are underway to decrease the amount of salt used through training and new equipment. St. Laurent wants to outfit two plow trucks with pre-wet systems, which reduce the amount of salt and sand needed because these materials stick to the wet roads. Wetting the roads with a liquid brine that contains salt is another pre-treatment. The brine has to be applied to dry roads when humidity is low, and dry completely to be effective. Trucks with pre-wetting equipment would be used on two plow routes around the town's lakes and streams.

In the past, Camden used as much as 3,500 yards of sand annually, and is now down to about 1,500 yards, according to Seibel. He said his knowledge is based on his long tenure with the department, as well as what was done before his time there. Back when sanding roads was the priority, a snow pack built up on the roads, he said. That required continuous sanding. Warming temperatures would break up the snow-packed surface of the roads, creating potholes. Dropping temperatures required sanding morning and night, and the sand would blow off the roads, he said, resulting in more accidents and more complaints.

Sand piles up on the shoulders, and can increase the amount of moisture on roads, causing damage, St. Laurent said. It can clog drainage, get into the air, and contaminate water.

During the course of a storm, snow is plowed into large piles downtown, usually between 1 and 5 a.m., which are the hours of the townwide winter parking ban from Nov. 1 through April 1. Select Board members Alison McKellar, Marc Ratner and Taylor Benzie expressed interest in changes to the ban. Benzie is interested to see if there is a way to make the ban more efficient. McKellar and Ratner talked about the option of a parking ban going into effect during storm events, and how citizens could be informed.

St. Laurent and Seibel defended the winter parking ban during their presentation, showing photographs of cars parked downtown buried in snow. St. Laurent said that because of the difficulty of predicting storms, it would be hard to inform residents about event-based parking bans. St. Laurent said more people would not know when the ban was in effect, resulting in more parked cars on the roads. He said this is a liability for Public Works.

Seibel said that on Route 1 through downtown Camden, the town is responsible for plowing from John Street to Marine Avenue. He said the parking ban is essential to clearing Route 1, because traffic begins at 4:30 a.m.

The giant piles of snow are then loaded into trucks and dumped in the harbor, which requires approval of overboard discharge by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. St. Laurent said Jan. 17 that approval of the town's license to dispose of snow into the harbor predates his employment with the town.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.