Rock salt storage facilities across Kendall County remain full this winter, a stark contrast to recent years when harsh snow storms depleted stockpiles, leaving public works directors scrambling for salt.
Several years ago, “people used every kernel of salt in their domes,” said Montgomery Public Works Director Todd Hoppenstedt. This year, Hoppenstedt is more worried about having enough space to store the village’s salt surplus when winter ends.
Towns, including Oswego, Yorkville and Montgomery, are sitting on hundreds of tons of unused salt purchased last year in anticipation of another harsh winter — -a winter that never came.
“We committed to larger volumes (of salt), and we just didn’t get a rough winter,” Hoppenstedt said. “I”m sure we have more salt then we’ll use, but the prices were pretty generous this year. I just have to make sure I can store it all.”
Oswego Public Works Director Jennifer Hughes said Oswego is in a similar position.
“Compared to the last few years, we’ve spent a lot less,” on salt, fuel and personnel costs, she said. “Those years were far in excess of what we budgeted for because they were so extreme. This year, we’re closer to our normal budget.”
And while money saved on using less salt this winter won’t be realized until next year — when the village gets to commit to a smaller salt purchase — fuel and personnel cost savings are immediately tangible, Hughes said.
“Driving trucks in circles all around the village to plow eats up a lot of fuel,” Hughes said. “That’s one area where we will see some savings.”
Fuel projections for the year, based off of historical trends, have come in under what was expected, and that’s a savings the village will realize immediately, Hughes said.
“This year we’ve been able to stay on to of the work we wanted to do this winter,” without having to put it off because of snow and plowing costs. Even when the winters got brisk, “the biggest thing we’ve had to defer was routine maintenance,” Hughes said.
But, she realizes she’s not out of the woods just yet.
“We don’t count ourselves out of snow season until April,” she said. “There’s still a chance for one or two more storms, but based on where we’re at compared to previous years, we’re in good shape.”
Yorkville Public Works Director Eric Dhuse said his city is also in a good fiscal position.
“It’s really great right now, but we’re only in the middle of February,” he said.
Still, it’s “nice to have that cushion (of salt) so we don’t have to scrape and save. It’s almost like having a savings account,” he said.
Like Hughes, Dhuse also knows winter is not entirely over. He recalled April snowstorms that blanketed the area with eight inches of snow.
Should that happen, Montgomery residents needn’t fret, Hoppenstedt said.
The village has used 646 tons of the projected 2,600 tons of salt purchased for the season.
Hoppenstedt said the village must take 80 percent of their salt bid, or 2,080 tons.
“My guess is we’re going to use under 1,000 tons,” he said.
But, he noted, savings recouped this year don’t translate into putting new roads down in April or May or June.
“This means I can contractually obligate myself to less next year,” he said, and the saved money can go to fund roadway projects.
Still, he’s working on even more ways to cut down plowing costs, and doing this by introducing the pre-treatment of Montgomery roads before a storm hits.
“As opposed to coming in on overtime and scraping up the snow, we’re pre-treating the roads a day or two before a big storm,” Hoppenstedt said. He said that this is the first year Montgomery has participated in anti-icing, pre-treatment programs which help reduce the amount of salt used, increase the safety of the roadways and provide an environmental benefit to residents–not to mention, gives those plowing the streets a bit of a reprieve.
Hughes said she knows how long and hard the hours can be for those out in the plows.
“It’s tough for our guys. Last year they missed the Super Bowl, and this year they had to plow on Valentine’s Day. They give up a lot of family things to make our community safe,” Hughes said. ” People don’t always appreciate the effort it takes to get the roads cleared.”
— Snowless winter adds up to savings for Kendall towns —