File photo from the city of Ithaca

Ithaca, N.Y. — The Town of Ithaca has decided to limit the salting of its roads to “critical areas” to ensure it does not deplete its remaining supply before the end of the winter.

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That announcement, made last week, drew questions from some readers: Shouldn’t the town just buy more? Isn’t public safety more valuable than cost?

Here’s the problem, the town’s Public Works Department Director Jim Weber said in an interview on Monday: There simply is “no surplus salt available.”

“The Town of Ithaca has looked into all available options and because the suppliers have contracts that they have to fulfill there is no surplus available,” he said.

File photo from the city of Ithaca/Ryan Landvater

Weber emphasized that while salt reserves do exist, the “vendors are not willing to jeopardize their signed contracts. … We have looked into all the options and there is no excess surplus for us to purchase.”

How did the town get to the place?

It wasn’t for lack of foresight, Weber says: The town upped its road salt supply by 40 percent ahead of this year’s winter from last year, Weber says.

What couldn’t be predicted, he said, was the severity of this year’s winter.

Here are 6 takeaways from our conversation with Weber about what happened and the situation with the town’s roads moving forward:

1 — Bad break from Mother Nature

There have been 54 days of 2015. It has snowed during 43 of them.

There was one 16 day stretch when it snowed every day without fail.

“When you’re looking at a series like that,” he says, “there is no Mother Nature giving you a break.”

2 — Where are the “critical areas?”

The town has about 50 miles of roads, “and we have an obligation to remove snow and bring them into a safe condition,” Weber says.

“However, safety is a very vague definition in a winter environment because a ‘safe road’ is up to the judgment of the individual drivers,” he said.

The “critical areas” the town will focus on are hills and intersection approaches. “We still have salt in our barns, but it’s very thin,” Weber syas.

3 — Costs beyond salting

There have been big increases in the town’s expenditures not just on salt but also on manpower and on equipment damaged in fighting the snow, according to Weber.

“It’s also taking a beating on our vehicles and overtime budgets,” he said.

4 — Most are supportive

Weber acknowledged receiving disgruntled phone calls from residents of the area annoyed by the reduction in road salting.

Yet Weber said that while some people are upset, most are supportive of the work done by public works crews.

5 — $165K already spent

The town budgeted $165,00 for spending on salt for this calendar year. That money has already been expended.

6 — Help from the sun

As the days get longer, the amount of snow that needs to get plowed shrinks.

“Solar radiation is a huge assistance,” Weber says. “I’m always doing the sun dance.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.