Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Embrace the Extra Sand on Our Streets – it’s Part of What’s Saving Us a Bundle

Stephen Vance, Editor

If Meaford’s streets appear a little grittier than they have in the past as this week’s warm temperatures have melted away all of that snow, well, they are. And while we might now lose points on aesthetics during spring melts in Meaford, it’s a worthy trade-off for the more than $200,000 we’re saving as a result of changes made to winter road control that in part includes the use of less salt and more sand, initiated in full for the first time this winter season.

The successful experiments carried out last year by Meaford’s Roads Department regarding winter roads control were implemented in full this year, and though there have been complaints, particularly about the revised plow routes and timing for getting the plows on the roads, there’s no doubt that this municipality made it through a pretty snowy winter with those changes implemented, and there haven’t been any safety issues brought to light as a result of increased car accidents or other incidents as a result of the changes.

Plow routes and timing of service aside, one of the other changes made that will also save the municipality some money has been in the salt and sand used on our roads.

As Meaford’s treasurer told council in May of last year, in years past Meaford was using salt on roads that didn’t need it, and given that salt cost significantly more than sand, the department made some changes.

Over time the municipality was relying more and more on salt applications, especially within certain rural areas and on some local low traffic urban roads. During testing, staff completely eliminated salt use on rural roads,” Chapman told council last spring, adding that on urban roads, “instead of utilizing 100% salt the sand loads were ‘sweetened’ by adding additional salt mixed with the sand. This ensured that hills and curves received an adequate amount of sand for traction but also included extra salt to inhibit the adhesion of ice to the road. With the exception of some negative public comments surrounding how the extra sand use has created a ‘dirty look’ there were no safety concerns raised. From an operational standpoint, the extra sand use does create some additional clean up in the spring through street sweeping and catch basin cleaning, however the cost benefit between salt ($82.36/tonne) and sand ($11.47/tonne) far outweighs the additional wage allocations for sand removal during spring clean-up.”

Given that salt costs more than $80 per tonne, while sand costs less than $12 per tonne, in a community that has been begging their municipality for a decade to find cost savings, it simply makes sense to use less salt, and more sand.

Cost aside, we have become increasingly aware in recent years of how our choices impact the surrounding environment, and when it comes to salt versus sand, there’s no question which is more environmentally friendly.

Meaford had been using some 3,000 tonnes of salt on our roads each year. By reducing salt use by 60 percent, Meaford isn’t just saving thousands of dollars, they are also preventing 2,000 tonnes of salt from running off into storm water catch basins, ditches, streams, and rivers – many of which eventually lead to Nottawasaga Bay.

There’s no question that with change there is often discontent. Meaford’s roads department has had to field many complaints over the past two years as a result of the changes that have been made, but the fact is that in years past, Meaford’s winter road control practices far exceeded the provincial standards, which is great if you can afford it, but what the past few councils have been told is that residents can’t afford the level of taxation in this community, and they’ve repeatedly asked council to find cost savings, and that’s what has been done.

It’s only late February, there’s still time for some more snow to fall before the temperatures begin to rise and leaves begin to return to our trees, so we of course can’t fully critique this winter season, but if the goal of winter roads control is to keep motorists and pedestrians safe while they travel our roads in the winter months, I would say that in spite of a little transitional frustration, and some extra grit on our roads and sidewalks, that goal has been achieved.

I can fully appreciate many of the complaints I’ve heard from folks this winter. It’s true, the plow doesn’t come down your road at the same time it used to, so that might be frustrating when you want to head to work. That said, when the plow was hitting your road earlier, it was reaching other roads later – not all of our roads can be the first to be plowed.

When it comes to our roads in winter, the question for those who aren’t happy might be: Are you so displeased with the winter roads control under the revised system that you want the municipality to add the roughly $200,000 we will save this winter back into the budget? If so, where in the budget should the $200,000 be cut? The arena? The public swimming pool? Road repairs and reconstruction? Because if we can’t find somewhere else to cut that amount of money, the only other option is a tax increase, if we want to go back to the way things were in previous winters.

Or can we live with a little inconvenience and a little extra grit in the spring in order to save a significant amount of money while keeping our community as safe as it’s always been?

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