Getting your share
When agencies pool their salt (and other) resources, everybody wins
By Tina Grady Barbaccia
Everything you need to know about efficient and effective salt storage you learned when you were a kid. Sharing your toys (let’s call them resources) and playing well together will get you more than you will get alone.
The value-added benefits of teamwork have served as the impetus for organizing regional salt storage with multiple municipal, county, and even some state agencies. They have worked together to effectively stock a shared facility, swap services and back each other up.
For years, transportation agencies have struggled to keep enough salt in storage to get them through the winter months, says Bret Hodne, public works director for West Des Moines, Iowa, and past chair for the American Public Works Association (APWA) Winter Maintenance Committee. This, of course, can be very distressing to public works managers when a snow or ice event is “knocking at the door.” Rapid infrastructure growth, inadequately sized storage facilities, budgetary constraints, and increased public expectations are just some of the issues that have left the entities with a lack of recommended salt storage, Hodne says.
Add rough winters into the mix, and it all snowballs into a major headache and winter maintenance woes for agencies.
That’s why several agencies in central Iowa decided to create the Central Iowa Metropolitan Salt Storage Facility. In fall 2007, local agencies began discussions about whether it made sense to construct a regional facility. After determining that all the agencies had difficulty with obtaining rock salt in a manner timely enough to effectively provide the level of service for snow and ice control, the decision was made to construct an agency-owned regional facility.
“There were many obstacles to overcome in the development of the Central Iowa Metropolitan Salt Storage Facility, however the benefits that already have been realized during this past winter have greatly emphasized the value to all of the cities that are involved,” Hodne says. “Having a readily available salt supply throughout the entire winter season has provided the nine agencies that participate in regional storage with the tools they need to meet the demand for services.”
The idea of shared storage isn’t new, but it’s becoming more widespread.
That’s why the City of Fort Collins, Colo., Streets Department, joined forces to develop a combined place to store materials and be more efficient. Since the 1980s, the City of Fort Collins and nearby agencies have operated with regional storage. The agencies rented a facility to store material, pre-split the cost and tracked material through an honor system. That was when just granular product was used. But now there are also liquid anti-icers and deicers, making storage more complex and making use of an honor system more difficult.
“You need to either agree to use the same products or figure out a process to handle two different products. I have known some agencies that have combined for regional facilities and it has ended up like a bad divorce.”
— Larry Schneider,streets superintendent for the City of Fort Collins, Colo., Street Department
In 2006, the City of Fort Collins obtained financing to buy the property that housed the original storage facility — an old sugar beet factory and built a brand new facility on the land after noticing significant corrosion. The city moved the entire operation there. “It’s for everyone in the county and school district,” says Larry Schneider, streets superintendent for the City of Fort Collins Streets Department. “We all take product out of it, and it works great. We haven’t run out of salt or liquid product yet, and I’ve even helped out other close-by cities.”
Even years with rough winters, such as the past few years, are manageable, because the new facility is directly on a train line. “We can rail in 100 tons per car,” points out Schneider, who is a winter maintenance committee member for APWA. “By truck, you might get 25 tons per per load. One rail car brings in what four truck loads would bring in.”
Schneider says that with the current economy, agencies need to be looking more at pooling resources. “When you’re doing snow removal, when talking about boundaries and who does what, and when talking about material storage, sharing resources can make a huge difference,” he says.
Sharing resources clearly then has its advantages with cost and product availability. But that, in itself, isn’t enough. The way these shared facilities are structured and set up is critical. First and foremost, Schneider says, is “you better trust and respect each other because there are a lot of issues when doing a combined facility such as ‘Who is keeping track of who takes what?’ and ‘Who is paying for what?’ You better have a process for that and know how to split your costs.”
There is the potential for problems or discrepancies, especially if a variety of products is being used. “You need to either agree to use the same products or figure out a process to handle two different products. I have known some agencies that have combined for regional facilities and it has ended up like a bad divorce. They accuse each other of stealing product,” Schneider says.
Schneider says that’s why with the new facility, his agency loads the product out and then bills the agency taking the product. “We track it all,” he says. “I buy all the product and then bill them for what they use. It makes great collaboration between us.”
The collaboration doesn’t end there. The county has a fuel site across the street from the salt storage facility and all the agencies use that. “It’s not just salt you can share,” Schneider points out. “We go over there to get fuel. If we were to get it at the station, we’d pay a lot more. They have bulk tanks. And sharing a fuel facility means there is only one site to maintain for everyone.”
Schneider says the agencies also share wash facilities for their trucks and road and winter maintenance equipment. “I think you just have to be innovative,” Schneider says. “The bottom line is that everyone saves money when you collaborate. With times being the way they are economically, agencies need to be looking more at resourcing together.”
Schneider also demonstrates that sharing doesn’t have to be a strictly structured operation. “I’m not afraid to call over to the county and state and ask to borrow something,” he says. “I’ve borrowed road graders…I even borrowed operators this past winter. You can be very creative with this.”
In New York state, some of the salt storage facilities are available for smaller municipalities, school districts, and airport authorities, for example, to store their salt. “We’ll load it up for them and keep track of it,” explains Michael H. Lashmet II, P.E, the snow and ice program engineer for the New York State Department of Transportation’s (NYSDOT) Office of Transportation Maintenance. “There are times, such as with a salt shortage or delays in deliveries, where we can assist neighboring municipalities.”
NYSDOT also has set up municipal contracts across the state that allow towns to plow state highways and then pay them for their services. “We have a total 169 municipal contracts with various towns, villages and counties,” Lashmet says. “We have 43,000 lane miles across the state. State forces maintain 35,380 lane miles. The 7,620-mile balance is maintained by municipal contractors.” In more remote areas where the NYSDOT doesn’t have a facility nearby, a contracted municipality can clear our highways in a more timely fashion than the DOT could from its closest facility.”v
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* How Oldcastle Materials’s APAC-Missouri solved its storage issue and protected its salt with a ClearSpan fabric structure.
* After the Storm: 120-mph tornado ripped down a salt dome in one of Northwest Indiana’s most heavily snowed regions, fast-tracked work replaced the previous wood-and-shingle facility with a Cover-All dome.