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City plows through half of its snow budget after brutal storm

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Updated: February 12, 2014 6:11AM



Chicago has spent $11.2 million — and plowed through half of its annual snow removal budget — since the New Year’s Eve storm that buried the city in 23 inches of snow before a record-setting cold snap.

The largest chunk of city spending — $7.2 million — paid for tons of salt spread on Chicago streets with precious little to show for it because of the Deep Freeze.

Another $2.5 million was spent on labor, City Hall disclosed, without pinpointing the precise number of overtime hours. The remaining $1.5 million was spent to fuel and maintain city plows and other snow removal equipment. Private contractors, who were summoned to augment the city’s fleet during the Blizzard of 2011, were not called in this time.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2014 budget includes $20.3 million for snow removal that includes this winter and next.

Last year, the mayor’s identical, $20.3 million forecast was right on the money. But that was for a relatively snowless winter that included just 19.6 inches of snow at O’Hare Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

This year, Mother Nature lowered the boom on Chicago, with 23 inches of snow since New Year’s Eve alone, followed by a polar plunge that kept temperatures below zero for days.

It wreaked havoc with the mayor’s snow budget.

On Friday, the Emanuel administration disclosed that it has spent $11.2 million since New Year’s Eve alone to plow, salt and clear Chicago’s arterial streets and keep the side streets “passable.”

Since $1 million in spending took place on Dec. 31, that money was “taken from the 2013 budget,” which was also $20.3 million.

The rest will be applied to this year.

The $7.2 million in salt spending explains why Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams has established a one-truckload-per-shift quota on salt spreading to “manage” the city’s supply.

It now stands at 100,000 tons — down from roughly 280,000 at the start of the winter season — but is being “replenished” on a daily basis.

“Since Sunday, the salt has not been working as well as we like. If we keep pouring more salt on top of it, it’s akin to throwing that away. I don’t want to do that. I want to make sure we use it wisely,” Williams said.

The one-truck-per-shift quota prompted South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) to sound the alarm about a “salt shortage” that the city categorically denied.

Earlier this week, Emanuel refused to say what he would do if he plowed through his snow removal budget on the record storm, vaguely reminiscent of the Blizzard of `79 that buried then-Mayor Michael Bilandic.

“The way I look at it is, how many streets have been cleaned — not just about the dollars and cents,” Emanuel said then.

“I want to make sure the streets are clean, so people can get to and from work, they can get to the grocery to get what they need. If they’ve got to get to a shelter or get to some other type of service they’ve got to access, I want to make sure the streets are clean . . . I want to make sure the airport’s running, the mass transit system is running. I want to make sure the people at CHA are checked in on and our most vulnerable citizens . . . So, we will spend what we need to spend, [but] we’re not going to do it carelessly.”

Even after the $11.2 million in spending, it was not enough to appease some aldermen, who have complained about the sloppy condition of Chicago side streets.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) says his ward office has fielded hundreds of complaints from angry motorists.

“They waited too long to get into the side streets before it froze. When the temperature dropped, it was almost impossible to run the plow. It was so rock-hard. They’re definitely passable, but they need a lot more work,” Waguespack said this week.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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