Last weekend’s snowfall produced three inches less than meteorologists predicted, dumping about five on Oak Park, but that didn’t change village public works officials’ salt conservation plan.

Village officials in Oak Park and River Forest announced plans Friday to alter their approaches to snow removal beginning with this storm. Less salt was spread, more plowing added, side streets saw less or no salt, and sand will be used as an alternative.

Oak Park officials noted that since the first snowfall of the season on Nov. 11, village crews have responded to 24 different snowfalls. A year ago there were a total of just nine snowfalls for the entire winter. So far this year, Oak Park has received 48 inches of snow. Last year only 27 inches fell over the entire winter. 

River Forest’s village government advised residents Friday that its future supply of road salt might be in jeopardy due to a region-wide shortage and that it will implement salt conservation measures, effective with this storm.

In a memo, Village Administrator Eric Palm said the village had just received a notable shipment of salt but had been told by suppliers it might be the last shipment available this season. With the winter stretching ahead and likely late winter/early spring freezing rain storms demanding salt, Palm announced a range of efforts to conserve the salt now.

Specifically, Palm said the village will plow streets more aggressively, salt side streets mainly at intersections and mid-block, spread less salt per pass, and selectively begin using sand as an alternative.

Oak Park Public Works Director John Wielebnicki announced a similar approach. He said main streets will be salted and plowed as normal. East/west streets will be salted only down the middle of the roadway. North/south streets will be salted only at intersections and stop signs. In some instances, salt will not be spread until snowfalls end. And sand may be mixed with salt although that action has the potential to clog sewers.

Wielebnicki said in a telephone interview that plow crews were finished removing snow by Sunday morning. The village already has used about 3,300 tons of salt this year and still has roughly 1,700 to 1,800 tons remaining. The village has not yet had to resort to using sand in place of salt, he said, which does not help melt the snow but merely reduces vehicle skidding.

Using sand produces its own problems.

“It could cause problems with the sewers, but we’re not there yet,” Wielebnicki said. “That’s down the road if we keep having a crazy winter.”

Spreading the word

A message from River Forest Village Administrator Eric Palm:

Dear Resident,

As you have probably read or heard in local media reports, there is a rock salt shortage for snow fighting purposes in the Chicago metropolitan area. These reports are accurate. After yesterday's delivery of salt, our total supply is at 125 tons. This amount of salt would typically be sufficient for 2-3 snow events while we wait for additional supply to be delivered. Unfortunately, we have been told by suppliers that there is no more salt available and, as a worst-case scenario, we should prepare to not receive any additional deliveries during this winter season. As such, we are utilizing conservation methods with our limited remaining resources. These methods include:

1. Increase emphasis on mechanical snow removal (i.e. plowing) to minimize the plowing of salt back onto the parkways; and

2. Reduce side street salting to intersections and at midpoints of the blocks, which allows vehicle traffic to carry the salt brine (melted snow and dissolved salt) over the balance of the street; and

3. Reduce application rates and spinner speeds (on the trucks), which minimizes salt bouncing off the pavement and onto the parkways where it is not only wasted but is also detrimental to the grass and trees; and

4. Integrate sand (as opposed to salt) into operations to provide traction to vehicles during snow events.

Please know that this conservation effort is strictly a result of a lack of supply and not due to poor planning, budget or financial constraints.

We are also mindful that as we transition from winter to spring, there is a greater likelihood of freezing rain events that warrant salt usage to combat icy road conditions. This point further reinforces our conservation strategy.

With less salt on the roads during these events the village encourages you to be safe and exercise extra caution while driving. Snow will remain on the roads longer until temperatures and the sun have an opportunity to melt the snow on the roads. Public Works crews will continue to plow and monitor road conditions.

Your cooperation and understanding is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Eric Palm

Village Administrator

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