By Nicole Hennessy
Last year was not a scrape-ice-off-cars, plowed-into-unmanageably-snowy-street-parking-spaces or take-the-kids-sledding kind of Northeast Ohio winter. It was a couple-of-inches-at-a-time light dusting of snow throughout the entire season, a welcome change for many residents who dread the crippling snowstorms they’re used to.
It’s been a running joke that there are only two seasons in Cleveland – winter and summer – so, moving from summer into winter, cities and residents are preparing for what is usually a drastic, heavy snow season, following a year of relief.
For cities, the essential tool is salt. And, having stockpiled it, there is plenty.
Most cities participate in a purchasing consortium offered through ODOT. They must estimate the entire amount of salt needed to sustain them for the whole winter, and then they must initially purchase 80 percent of that amount. While the surpluses have driven those estimates down, the purchases further increase the amount of salt each city must store.
EPA standards require salt to be stored in a covered bin or location so that it does not get mixed in with rainwater or the sewer systems, so cities like Fairview Park had to figure out what to do with all of it.
With 1,000 tons in a bin behind City Hall, Fairview currently has an excess of about 600 tons sitting outside the bin.
This should be enough to sustain the city throughout most of the winter. However, if the snow holds out again, storage could become a serious problem.
“We are under the same program,” said Westlake service Director Paul J. Quinn III, who explained that the city also has a salt surplus. “The price we received this year under the ODOT contract is 25 percent less per ton delivered,” he added, which helped the city save a bit of money.
This reflects a savings that started with ODOT’s choice to allow salt companies to bid on entire districts rather than individual counties, which resulted in a statewide savings of $13.11 per ton of salt, adding up to more than $10 million in total savings.
The transportation agency itself purchased 209,000 fewer tons of salt this year as compared with previous winters.
If this winter is as light as last year’s, Westlake and other Westshore suburbs will save further, having to estimate a lower 80 percent for 2014.
And though savings are always welcome, the issue of changing weather patterns must be considered.
During Superstorm Sandy, Westshore cities like Lakewood, Bay Village and Rocky River were hit hard, costing the communities thousands of dollars. So, any savings managed through light winters are essentially overridden by changing weather patterns in Northeast Ohio, when previously only coastal cities seemed to bear the brunt of stronger and stronger storms.
But no matter the strength or lightness of this winter, too much salt is better than not enough and sunny December days are welcome.