DPW Spreads Salt and Savings

by | Jan 16, 2014

By John Anderson

William Coyle is Auburn’s Town Engineer and Department of Public Works Director. While he has many responsibilities, one of the most visible is handling the clearing of snow and the prevention or treatment of ice.

In the quest to control costs while delivering essential services, Coyle has initiated two innovative programs. First was the switch from the traditional rock salt (sodium chloride) to ClearLane® Enhanced Deicer (magnesium chloride) known as green salt.

Green salt is environmentally friendly, works at lower temperatures than rock salt, has a corrosion inhibitor and adheres well to pavement. Because of the green color, residents can see if their street has been treated resulting in fewer telephone complaints.

The second program is the installation of “Cirus Controls” on the sanding trucks. These onboard computers control the rate of distribution of salt and/or sand and automatically adjust the flow according to the truck’s speed.

The net result is 20% less salt used.

The Cirus system also provides data for post-storm analysis and is linked to Google Earth by GPS units. The DPW installed one unit for the FY 13, and immediate success was noted. Two new trucks delivered in FY 14 came with  Cirus Controls installed. Two additional controls were approved at the fall special town meeting.

Coyle feels the units, approximately $10,000 each, will pay for themselves in a single year. As older trucks in Auburn’s fleet are replaced, they will come with the controls. The goal is to put the right amount of product on Auburn’s roads. Coyle said, “Putting down what we have to put down, no more, no less.” Safe roads remains the objective.

The realized savings from this program are staggering. Although the volume of salt has increased from 1,840 to 2,136 tons per year, the amount of sand has been reduced by 5,000 tons per year, the equivalent of 156 tractor-trailer loads. In real numbers, this amounts to $10,000 in direct savings, but it’s the indirect savings that really matter.

The use of sand brings other problems. At the Selectmen’s Meeting on Monday, Coyle showed photographs of culverts and drainage pipes packed with sand. The labor to correct these problems is excessive, but there will be no future issues like this.

If one thinks back a couple of years, the amount of sand next to the curb often looked like a beach, and lawns had to be thoroughly raked to remove the sand from plowing or shoveling. Residents impatiently awaited the street sweepers that sometimes took 8 weeks to arrive.

Today, sweeping is completed in June instead of July, and the 4 employees can move on to other assignments. This saves about 640 man-hours. Swept sand also must be properly disposed of at $20.00 per ton. Long gone are the days of a big sand pile somewhere in town, and the EPA prohibits reuse. Eliminating 5,000 tons of sand saves the town tens of thousands of dollars.

To put snow removal into perspective, at the start of a storm, it takes 10 DPW employees 1-2 hours to treat the 200 lane miles of Auburn roads with salt and/or sand. The material cost is around $4,000 and the labor cost is around $1,200.

Snow removal begins after 2-3” has fallen and requires 21 town employees and 10 private contractors. It takes 3 hours to plow all the roads once. The Fire Department has its own plow to keep the stations clear so ambulances and fire trucks can always get to emergencies.

At the end of a storm, all roads are treated again, and the plow crews move on to the 14 municipal parking lots and 24 miles of sidewalks. Sidewalks that serve walkers to the schools are given priority.

Coyle is grateful to the DPW employees for adapting so well to these changes. He stressed that computers don’t replace people and he counts on the plow drivers to do the right thing. “I depend on the discretion of the drivers. They’ll hit the “blast” feature to double the application if needed.” Such overrides are needed on steep inclines like Upland St., Jerome Ave., Shirley St., and many more.

Auburn is on the cutting edge with this technology, and area towns should be taking notice.