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Aldermen: ‘Unrealistic’ snow removal expectations waste salt, money

A little-traveled stretch 5100 block North Paulinremained covered by snow late last week. | Art Golab~Sun-Times

A little-traveled stretch of the 5100 block of North Paulina remained covered by snow late last week. | Art Golab~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 16, 2014 6:25AM



Ever since the Blizzard of ’79 buried Michael Bilandic, the politics of snow removal have demanded that Chicago mayors pick up the snowflakes almost before they hit the ground.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) believes it’s high time to lower the bar.

Moore argued Tuesday that City Hall spent $7.2 million on salt after the New Year’s Eve storm that preceded a polar plunge — and “wasted” tons of it — because it was trying to meet the “unrealistic” expectations of a demanding Chicago electorate.

By the time the Department of Streets and Sanitation had turned its attention to Chicago side streets, the 23 inches of snow had turned to ice, rendering salt “totally ineffective,” Moore said.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) agreed, noting that two of the three snow plows assigned to his residential streets broke trying to chip away at the giant block of ice.

“Should we have been out there pouring salt on the streets when it was clearly not working [or] waited until the weather moderated. But then we’d have to answer to our constituents who say, `We don’t see any salt trucks out there? What are you doing?’” Moore said Tuesday.

“That involves educating your constituents. I had to educate myself. I had no idea, until I did my own research, that below a certain temperature, salt just doesn’t work. And actually, when you get below 20 degrees, it’s ability to really melt ice and snow is greatly diminished. It just exponentially decreases.”

Noting that Chicago has already plowed through half of its annual snow-removal budget, Moore said, “We have to do a better job of educating our constituents about what is realistically to be expected of a city during tight economic times. Clearing the streets is one of the top priorities. But there are some occasions where that’s not reasonably possible — at least in the short term.”

Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams said drivers worked around the clock last week because of the weather.

“We are well aware of the limitations of salt in extreme cold temperatures as we experienced last week,” Williams said. “That is why we train our drivers and constantly monitor conditions to most effectively utilize our resources.”

Last week, he all but agreed that salt had been “wasted” by establishing a one-truckload-per-shift quota on salt-spreading.

On Tuesday, city officials said they had more than 115,000 tons of salt and are continuing to receive shipments. The city had roughly 280,000 at the start of the winter season.

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.

Last week, the Emanuel administration disclosed that it spent $11.2 million through Jan. 8 — half of a snow removal budget that’s supposed to cover this winter and the start of next.

That prompted downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), vice chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, to sound the alarm.

“We’ll have to probably talk about a supplemental appropriation. We’ve had this in the past when we’ve had a lot of precipitation. Frankly, wet winters are budget-busters,” Reilly said Tuesday.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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