Cedar Rapids buys winter salt; considers forecast from weather service, squirrels

City ready for either severe or mild winter, officials say

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Legend says that fat squirrels may forecast a tough winter, but Craig Hanson says he has seen no such thing this fall.

Hanson, the city’s Public Works Department street maintenance manager, though, is preparing for a normal winter, keeping in mind what he says is a better predictor of winter weather, a National Weather Service mid-October forecast that, for now, says Cedar Rapids may see a little less ice and snow than normal.

At Hanson’s request, the City Council has agreed to purchase up to 9,600 tons of rock salt for a price not to exceed $672,864, which includes a $68.09-per-ton charge for the salt and an estimated $2-per-ton fuel surcharge to get the salt to Cedar Rapids. The city may spend less because the contract allows the city to purchase less salt if it’s not needed.

The city is paying $1.07 per ton less than a year ago with the new contract.

Hanson reported this week that the city now has about 5,300 tons of salt on hand, and in a typical winter the city uses between 8,000 and 9,000 tons.

However, the city only needs to point to the winter of 2007-2008, when it needed more than 11,000 tons to beat back that winter’s ice and snow.

Last winter, the city needed only 5,800 to 6,000 tons of salt, the lowest amount since the winter of 2005-2006, when the city used a similar amount.

Since 2008, the city has needed to put less salt directly on streets because that year, it purchased its own salt brine-making equipment. The city now uses some salt to create liquid brine which it applies to streets before winter storms so it needs to put less rock salt on streets after storms.

"Only time will tell," Hanson said about whether the city will see a mild to normal winter or a severe one. "We are ready for either."

The city is in the midst of replacing its public works facility on the same site, 1201 Sixth St. SW, and as a result, city’s street crews will be coming and going on to 15th Avenue SW this winter and won’t be using Fourth and Sixth streets SW, Hanson noted.

Last winter, city crews put the first salt on city streets on Nov. 9, which is a normal time for the city, Hanson said. He said snow stays on the ground for a day or more around Thanksgiving with the city's first significant winter storm arriving in the first week of December.

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