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Villages work to conserve road salt

A snowplow clears Ogden Avenue in Hinsdale last month as temperatures plummeted into the negative teens.
A snowplow clears Ogden Avenue in Hinsdale last month as temperatures plummeted into the negative teens.

HINSDALE – A few months ago, a pile of leftover salt sitting outside the Oak Brook Public Works Department was a “pain” for Mike Hullihan.

But with this neverending cold, ice and snow, that salt now looks more like gold.

“It was a little bit of an irritation over last summer, but it’s a god send right now,” Oak Brook Public Works Director Hullihan said.

Hullihan said the village typically uses 1,500 tons of road salt in the course of a winter but expanded its salt purchasing contract to 1,700 tons for this season.

So far this winter, the village already used 1,900 tons. But because of the 800 tons of leftover salt from last season, Hullihan said Oak Brook still has 600 tons remaining.

“While we’ve had to go ahead and switch to some conservation measures, which is similar to the other municipalities, we are salting intersections and main routes and we’ve been able to decrease the regular usage,” he said.

Public works departments may be the most eager for winter to end as villages are working tirelessly in what may seem like a neverending battle with the brutal elements.

“We’ve had a lot of these really light, not deep snow, and with the temperatures being what they’ve been we’ve had to use salt more frequently than we’re used to,” Clarendon Hills Public Works Director Mike Millette.

Millette said the village usually has to order 200 to 300 tons of salt but started the season with 550 tons on hand.

“We’ve already used 1,000 tons this season and we’re not done,” Millette said. “I’ve got 300 on hand so I’m comfortable.”

Burr Ridge Public Works Director Paul May said one problem has been the lack of time between snowfalls, resulting in minimal melt off. Public works has had to plow snow higher each time.

“Typically what happens is we’ll get a snowfall event, it’ll last for a while, melt back down, we’ll get another one, it will melt back down, and there’s parkway space available for the snow to replace,” May said. “But especially in cul-de-sac areas that becomes a challenge when it doesn’t melt off in between because you might already have a pile 3-feet high at the end of the cul-de-sac. And there’s another foot and half of snow to push on top of it.”

May said Burr Ridge historically uses about 1,200 tons of road salt each year, and as of Jan. 24, the remaining inventory was 400 tons. Public works has contacted a private supplier to provide 250 additional tons.

Like several villages in the area, Burr Ridge Public Works is trying to conserve salt and is advising drivers to be extra cautious.

“There’s a very significant demand for it right now, and it’s almost impossible to get additional salt in this area,” May said.

Hullihan said drivers should not expect roads to be clear curb to curb. Just because something looks shiny doesn’t mean it’s melted snow, it could be black ice.

“People should slow down, leave a little bit early and be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said.

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