Salt, sand have limits

FAIRMONT — Martin County Engineer Kevin Peyman on Tuesday addressed Martin County commissioners, giving a general overview of the salting and sanding policies that are followed during snow and ice events.

“Basically, state statutes state that road authorities other than the high-speed arterials, which would be like interstates and some state roads, we’re only allowed to salt stop signs, hills and curves,” he said. “We generally don’t broadcast sand where we open it up and go down the road. If we feel that we can get the road mostly clear from ice within 24 to 48 hours without broadcast salting, then we generally won’t salt except those stop signs, hills and curves.

“The reasons for that are multiple, one being that salt is getting to be a big issue in Minnesota. I think there’s 40 lakes and streams in the metro area that are rated at so high of a salt level that by 2050 they’re thinking they won’t be able to have any aquatic life. Once they get to that level they won’t be able to come back from that.

“So it’s partly environmental issues, but there’s also the perception out there that salt is going to make roads better. We generally have about a 12-hour shift for our guys and if you don’t have a night crew out there chasing it and scraping it all the time after you put that salt down, it makes things worse instead of better.”

Peyman went on to explain this is because the salt will melt things down a little bit, but blowing snow will stick and things will refreeze.

“The other thing is salting in conditions like we’ve had,” he said. “As it gets colder you progressively need more salt. The general consensus is anything under 10 degrees salt doesn’t help much and when you get under 5 degrees, you get a one-to-one ratio. So that means you need a pound of salt to melt a pound of ice, and with 512 miles of road it’s impossible to do.”

Peyman also went into detail concerning the sand/salt mixture that is used, and mentioned experimentation with an organic material.

“But when we are putting sand and salt down, we’re doing a 75 percent sand to 25 percent salt mix. The hope is that the salt will melt and then the sand gives traction.

“We’re also experimenting with a product called Beet Heat. It still has chemicals in it, but it’s primary element is beet juice. It is still corrosive because of the chemicals, but we’ve never found an organic product that does as well.”

Peyman noted that one problem with the organic mixture is the amount of chemical and mixture that the county goes through.

“We basically get one load in to last us all winter,” he said. “So anytime you start getting organic product in the tank that long, you start having issues with mold. So we’re going to try that on some of the higher volume roads to see if it’s better or worse.”