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OKC Street maintenance ready for winter weather

OKC Street maintenance ready for winter weather


OKLAHOMA CITY – Mike DeGiacomo is almost looking forward to the first freeze of the season, if only to try out Oklahoma City’s latest street deicing equipment.

Just don’t ask him to predict how much salt he’ll need.

“The Farmer’s Almanac says it’s going to be a wetter-than-normal winter,” he said after chuckling. DeGiacomo is Oklahoma City’s superintendent of street maintenance. “You tell me how wet that means, and I’ll tell you how much salt we’ll use.

“It’s a total shot in the dark. We’ve got about 12,000 tons of rock salt on hand in our two storage facilities. Last year that was enough; the year before that, in our super ice storm, it might not have been enough,” he said.

“I give up. All we can do is have good stock on hand and a purchase order to a vendor to ship us more if we need it.”

This week DeGiacomo’s crews have been training on snowplows and salt brine sprayers, as well as driving the city’s designated emergency snow routes. He started planning for the season at the first of October.

Salt contract prices have remained constant into the season, DeGiacomo said, but it is impossible to predict demand because of the confluence of weather and economy.

In the first six months of 2009, salt sales nationwide were off more than 3.8 million, or 20 percent, compared with record sales for the same period a year earlier, according to the Salt Institute trade group. The vast majority of that decrease was attributed to road clearance activities.

“No one can predict the weather, and more than three-quarters of the lower salt usage is due directly to Mother Nature’s benevolence in reducing snow and ice events this past winter,” Salt Institute President Dick Hanneman said in his organization’s newsletter. “We need to remember that weather conditions last year produced an all-time level of road salt sales, more than 10 percent over the historic record.”

Oklahoma City’s consumption of salt to keep roads ice-free this year might be mitigated slightly because of new equipment purchased earlier this year. The street maintenance department will be using a new salt brine system for the first time.

The brine solution is 23.3-percent salt suspended in water, DeGiacomo said, which allows it to be more efficiently spread over bridges ahead of storms instead of dry salt applied after the fact. Bridges are usually the first traffic surfaces to freeze because of air flow above and below.

“The brine will not allow the freezing precipitation to bond to the bridge decks,” he said. “So once the storm hits, instead of wasting time clearing bridges we’ll be able to get started on our normal snow routes.”

DeGiacomo said the equipment vendor will be on hand later this week to help complete the installation of 1,000-gallon brine tanks on four city trucks.

He said his crews are already prepared for long days ahead if Oklahoma City gets a lot of freezing precipitation, but it’s not a special adjustment psychologically.

“You have to understand, in the spring we respond to flash flooding and weather damage that way. And during the summer it’s construction season. So we’re always in the ‘switch gears’ mode,” he said. “It’s part of our normal orientation up front, so we don’t have to take a deep breath to get ready for a seasonal change. We’re always switching gears.”

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