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River Falls recognized for using less road salt in road maintenance

Snow maintenance employees include (from left) operations director Mike Stifter, Scott Jensen, Jon Kusilek, Pat Yunker, Charles Larson, Troy Connolly, Joe Killian, Ray Curtis, Nathan Croes, Irv Peskar, David Holodnack, and operations superintendent Terry Kusilek. Not pictured is Bob Schwalen. Photo courtesy of the City of River Falls

As the snow piled up Monday, Jan. 22 River Falls' snow maintenance staff was working hard to clear roads and keep driving conditions as safe as possible.

But even as they worked on the large storm, they were being conscious not to over-use one go-to snow and ice removal tool: salt.

"You can overdo salt," said City Operations Director Mike Stifter, "and salt has a real negative effect on the environment."

And especially on water resources, like the Kinnickinnic River.

City staff has made a concentrated effort to reduce road salt use over the past 15 years or so, Stifter said.

Those efforts have been recognized. The city is due to receive an Environmental Leadership award from Freshwater Society at the 17th annual Road Salt Symposium on Feb. 8.

Stifter said the recognition is nice, but that's not why the city puts so much effort into salt reduction.

He said the road maintenance staff in particular is very humble about receiving this award.

"They're all about doing their job, not looking to get their name in the paper," Stifter said. "They like doing their job and doing it well."

Stifter said the staff is deserving of the recognition, but they're not seeking it.

Road salt helps melt ice and snow and keeps it from sticking to the ground, keeping roads clear and safe for travel.

But, if too much salt gets into a freshwater stream or other body of water, it can have a negative impact on the environment, Stifter said.

"Anything we can do to lessen that impact is important," he said. "There's really not much more incentive than just doing the right thing for the environment that we live in."

He said chlorides—like salt, sodium chloride—don't break down once they're in a water resource; they're always there.

The city mostly uses sodium chloride — the same chemical makeup as the salt in the shaker on your kitchen table. But, Stifter said, the city will sometimes use magnesium chloride as well.

Rock salt — sodium chloride — is effective up to about 15 degrees above zero. Magnesium chloride can melt ice that gets colder. Calcium chloride can work in even colder temperatures, but conditions have to be optimal, Stifter said.

Mostly, he said, the city will "spike" it's regular rock salt with magnesium chloride for temperatures a bit lower than 15 degrees.

Salt reduction efforts

"Our snow maintenance program has evolved greatly," said Stifter. "Especially, I would say, over the last 15 years."

He praised the work of Operations Superintendent Terry Kusilek and the city snow removal staff.

The city's salt use reduction efforts include:

• Early plowing: City plows are sent out at the start of a snow event, rather than on a set shift time. This way the city can plow before the snow has a chance to compact on roads and alleyways.

• The city's plow trucks are calibrated and rechecked twice a year for maximum effectiveness. Plow blades are also routinely evaluated.

The more snow that can be removed mechanically, the less salt needed, Stifter said.

• The city is also experimenting with non-chloride products. These could have a lesser impact on the environment.

All of these efforts, Stifter said, have allowed the city to reduce its salt usage by 60 percent over the past 10 years.

Stifter said this year the city is also applying for the American Public Works Association (APWA) Excellence in Snow and Ice Control award.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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