Sand, salt use running ahead of normal for season, towns say
The town of Appleton has already used 90 percent of the sand it had bought for this winter, said Don Burke, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
HOW MUCH SALT?
Most of the towns in Knox County, plus Lincolnville and Searsmont in Waldo County and Waldoboro in Lincoln County, buy road salt together as a cost-saving measure. Salt is purchased by the ton. According to the RFP sent out in April 2013, member towns requested the following amounts: Appleton, 400; Camden, 1,300; Cushing, 300; Friendship, 300; Hope, 225; Lincolnville, 850; Owls Head, 650; Rockland, 1,100; Rockport, 1,000; Searsmont, 250; S. Thomaston, 450; Thomaston, 450; Union, 700; Vinalhaven, 150; Waldoboro, 800; Warren, 800; Washington, 800.
He said the town usually uses 2,500 to 3,000 cubic yards of sand in a winter – last winter, it used 2,750 yards. So far this year it has used 2,250 yards. Now it has another 1,000 yards on order, and will also need to buy more salt.
Burke said he expects to go over budget on winter road maintenance and the additional cost will have to come out of road maintenance later in the year.
Other towns in the area have not gone through as much of their supply of sand and salt as Appleton, but all of those interviewed said they have used significantly more of both this year than last.
A group of 17 municipalities buy road salt together – a collective 10,500 tons – to save money. The group includes Appleton, Camden, Cushing, Friendship, Hope, Lincolnville, Owls head, Rockland, Rockport, Searsmont, South Thomaston, Thomaston, Union, Vinalhaven, Waldoboro, Warren and Washington.
Some town officials said they buy sand on their own. As Hope Town Administrator Jon Duke explained, it is usually cheaper to buy it from a nearby vendor to keep down the cost of transportation.
Camden Public Works Director Rick Seibel said his crews have been out treating the roads during and after storms 17 times since Nov. 26. He has already used 800 of the 1,200 yards of sand purchased last year. By comparison, the town used 1,600 yards of sand during all of last winter.
One problem, Seibel and others said, is the amount of ice we have had, along with extended periods of sub-freezing weather, which makes salt less effective.
“This ice will really eat up a lot of sand,” Seibel said.
When towns must buy sand in the middle of winter, he explained, it usually has snow and ice mixed in with it, and lumps can get stuck in the sanders' spreading mechanism. He said he has used about 60 percent of his salt and sand budget so far, but does not expect to go over budget. He also has a reserve account to draw on if it is needed.
Duke, of Hope, said his town does not need to buy more sand yet, but is already looking into it. He said in the seven years he has been in Hope, the town has never had to purchase sand in mid-season.
“These storms have put a big hit into our sand and salt pile,” he said.
Duke and others also noted some residents have been abusing the privilege of taking sand and salt from piles the towns keep for public use, loading up a truck bed to sand a private road, or taking sand from a town when they do not live there. Camden Selectman Leonard Lookner expressed similar concerns during a recent meeting, asking residents to "please be thrifty" with sand use.
Sand for winter road maintenance comes mixed with some salt, to keep it from caking, or becoming stuck together. The amount of additional salt mixed with the sand depends on how much traffic a road gets, Duke said. Busier roads, where the traffic melts some of the snow and ice, can take a higher concentration of salt, which is activated by moisture, while less-traveled roads need more sand.
So far, Hope is slightly under its salt and sand budget, Duke said, adding that winter road maintenance is one of the few areas where state law allows towns to go over budget without getting prior approval from residents.
Still, he said, the town has used “far more” sand and salt so far this year than is typical for this time of year. It has already used 900 yards of sand, about half the normal amount for an entire winter.
“Usually, we're just starting to dig into the pile about now,” he said.
Lincolnville has also used more sand and salt than it had by this time last year, said Town Administrator David Kinney.
Kinney said the town started the season with 2,500 yards of sand, and has now used less than half of it. The town budgeted for 850 tons of salt and 1,500 yards of sand this year, he said. He added that in his 10 years with the town, it has never had to buy additional sand.
At the end of 2013, the town had spent 68 percent of its sand and salt budget for the year. Lincolnville pre-buys its sand and pays for salt as needed.
He said he does not expect to go over budget, but “it is very hard to predict the weather and road conditions that will occur between now and the end of the season.”
Like his counterparts in other towns, Mike Young, Rockport's director of public works, said he has used more sand and salt than he usually does by this point in the year. He said the amount of sand used is two or three weeks ahead of normal, and he is about halfway through the 1,000 tons of salt he budgeted for. He tries to keep two tractor-trailer loads of salt on hand, which he figures is about three storms' worth.
But the ice storm just before Christmas used two or three storms' worth of sand by itself, he said. It is typical for the town to use around 2,300 yards of sand in a winter; so far this season, it has used 1,300 yards. The Rockport sand and salt shed holds 3,200 yards of sand when it is full. As of the second week of January, it contained around 1,600 yards, Young said.
“We just got hit with February weather in December,” he said.
Seibel, of Camden, expressed a sentiment many Midcoast residents may share, whether they are responsible for road maintenance or not.
“The tropics are looking better every day.”
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.
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