Salty talk: Naperville staff eye road-clearing prices, procedures for upcoming winter

The salt supply in the storage dome on Plainfield-Naperville Road isrunning low, but there's plenty more where that came from. | Susan Frick Carlman ~ Sun-Times Media
The salt supply in the storage dome on Plainfield-Naperville Road is running low, but there's plenty more where that came from. | Susan Frick Carlman ~ Sun-Times Media

Naperville is looking at paying more to keep its streets free of ice next winter. Conservation measures on the table for stretching current stores and future purchases of pricier salt include holding off on putting ice down on the city’s 1,200 cul-de-sacs.

The city takes part in a joint purchasing partnership through the state that caps salt price increases at 5 percent year over year, as long as it orders no more than 20 percent more than it requested the previous winter. Last season, when supplies wound down long before the snow was finished falling, a staff check of road salt pricing to supplement what remained from the state-contract inventory found the going rate was $68.35 per ton, which represents a 38 percent increase overall, relative to last winter’s prices.

“The bid was rejected,” Christine Schwartzhoff, operations team leader in the Public Works Department, wrote in a memo last week.

According to Schwartzhoff, the allocation requested for the 2014-15 season through the state agreement was 14,400 tons, expected to cost $52.46 each. The City Council will vote on awarding a contract for the salt purchase in September, she said.

Some inflation was anticipated. The price paid by the city last winter was just less than $50 per ton, and Mike Bevis, chief procurement officer, has said salt prices typically rise by 12 to 40 percent the year after an unusually harsh winter.

Schwartzhoff said the domes used to house the salt are about half full, holding an estimated 8,400 tons left over from last winter’s supplemented supply. The surplus should cover about half of the salt needs for the coming winter, according to staff projections. Estimates of the upcoming year’s salt needs anticipate a usage volume between 70 percent and 80 percent of the 22,000 tons the city went through last year.

Meanwhile, steps are in place to make all of the salt go farther.

“We have modified our deicing procedures on residential side streets by waiting to salt until after the streets are plowed,” Schwartzhoff wrote. “Staff is also reducing and/or eliminating salting cul-de-sacs when practical. The result may be that these residential streets will not be completely free of snow and ice, but they will be safe and passable.”

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