Feb. 12, 2008
UI salt supplies running low due to higher than normal snowfall
Forty-five tons of salt: That's all that remains of the 600 tons University of Iowa Facilities Management purchased for the winter. It may seem like a lot, but Bob Brooks, associate director of campus and facilities planning for landscape services in UI Facilities Management, said it goes pretty quickly.
"During a 'normal' snowfall event, we use between 25 and 30 tons of salt. Mixing that with sand and spreading it onto the 31 miles of roadway and 32 miles of sidewalk we maintain . . . yeah, it goes pretty fast." Brooks said.
UI Facilities Management spends $24,750 on salt each winter. The salt is spread primarily on the west side of campus, including Hawkins Drive, Newton Road, Oakdale campus and Hawkeye campus roads. Brooks said Facilities Management Landscape Services maintains approximately 32 miles of sidewalks and 31 lane miles of roadways. UI Parking and Transportation also uses salt and sand from Facilities Management storage for main campus parking.
The problem this winter, Brooks said, is that the salt shortage is widespread.
"Cities, county governments and everyone in between are having trouble contracting with other outside suppliers because we've got so much snow and ice. Our main concern is once the remaining 45 tons is gone, our current supplier cannot guarantee any more," Brooks said. "We are exploring every option possible to make sure we can continue to provide safe road and walk conditions in spite of the diminishing supply of salt."
According to State Climatologist Harry Hillaker, the Iowa City area has received nearly 51 inches of snow so far this winter. That's over double what can usually be expected this time of year and 20 inches more than the current state average.
UI Facilities Management normally uses 300 tons of salt per winter, while the most ever used was 400 tons in the winter of 2000. For now, the UI will receive salt and sand mix from a local supplier to augment the contracted supply, but there is no guarantees on its longevity. In the meantime, the UI Facilities Management staff will be forced to ration its salt usage.
"We're going to stretch it out the best we can," he said. "Our primary concern is always University Hospitals and Clinics simply because of the sidewalk and emergency traffic it receives. But either way you look at it, it's going to be tough."
It's tough on Brooks' crew too. So far, UI Facilities Management has spent 89 percent more on labor this winter than they did all of last winter. In fact, in the month of December, crew members didn't receive a day off until just before the New Year.
Despite forecasters predicting three to six more inches of snow falling in southeastern Iowa through Wednesday, Hillaker said there is some hope.
"After this storm system, the rest of February is looking warmer and dryer than usual," Hillaker said.
"We're not out of the woods yet, but that certainly is a relief to hear," Brooks said.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500