An Interview with DPW Commissioner Alex Tergis on the Costs of Not Having a Salt Dome

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Over the past week, as the snow has melted some of the anger and frustration of the past few days has likewise dissipated and folks have moved on. We here at Talk of the Sound do not "move on". We stick with it, whatever "it" is. It's what folks have come to expect. And when renewed anger and frustration arises after the next big storm (unless global warming hits this weekend) perhaps you will be glad we did.

If you have not already, you ought to first read the previous two articles so you can better understand the issues.

New Rochelle DPW Tackles Large Snow Storms...and Critics

Should New Rochelle Have a Salt Dome? A Few Words With the Salt Guru

There are other issues -- what does a salt dome cost (Lou Trangucci has his eyes on one that cost $250,000), where would a salt dome be located? should we have a main location and a satellite location for the North End? - but the issue we look at here is trying to get a handle on the direct out-of-pocket cost of not having a Salt Dome. This leaves out the other factors mentioned by the Salt Guru -- the direct and indirect economic impact on local business including many small businesses, the health and safety issues and more. This is just the direct cost to the taxpayer related specifically to not having a salt dome.

I sent DPW Commissioner Alex Tergis a few questions to ponder over the weekend and here is how he responded on Monday. Here is a chart so you can follow along:

Salt Table 1

Is our salt stored on an impermeable surface like a concrete pad?

No. It's store on old cracked asphalt.

How much salt do you estimate is lost each year (percentage) due to runoff? I seem to recall hear 40%?

We prefer the more conservative estimate of about 25% runoff. 25-50% is probably a reasonable range (however a percentage is also unusable and or comes off in truck in cobble sized chunks or larger).

Of the salt not lost through runoff, how much is degraded due to exposure to the elements (clumping, etc.)?

We estimate of about 25%-75%. These numbers are difficult to quantify as we try to balance our orders to have material on hand, which rain then degrades, and receive fresh material a few days prior to the storms and use immediately. Thus with luck and good weather prior to storms we lose less material.

For a given ton of salt, as a percentage, how much of that salt is actually put onto the roadways? How much disappears? How much is largely useless?

These are all guesstimates but we figure 50% to 75% of the salt we purchase makes it onto a truck. And the weathered material on average is only half as effective as fresh, dry material.

Does clumped salt cause damage to equipment and to what extent?

Breakdowns due to salt binding in the trucks typically takes it out of service for a few hours and requires it to be unloaded (in some cases manually, two men with shovels unloading tons of material), examined and some times broken conveyor belts repaired or replaced.

What is the rough cost per ton of salt?

$52/ton

How much salt does New Rochelle use in a mild winter? a harsh winter? In other words, what is the range?

5,000 to 10,000 purchased.

Anything else you think readers should know?

This winters estimated averages per storm:

5-8 vehicles have been returned to garage for frozen spinners that needed to be cleared, requiring 1.5-2.5 labor hours to correct each.

4-7 vehicles per shift with retracting spinners have been frozen and had tailgate issues when attempting to dump frozen loads. Labor hours 1.5-2.5.each.(they would load trucks then need to dump due to frozen blocks of salt) even with installed grates.

4-8 spreader control problems - when loads jam conveyor and lose trim settings, they need to be reset 1.5-2.0 labor hours includes dumping load.

4 large spreaders have damaged conveyor chains due to frozen loads requiring replacement, price range of conveyors are $3,000.00 to $5,000.00 each plus additional parts and labor. Three weeks for order to be filled. Three days for repairs per unit. Note each spreader damaged has varied length and type. Conveyors are made of steel! Loads when wet with single digit temps are turning into blocks similar to cement, requiring staff to use air chisels to free. We are regularly placing frozen spreader loads in the mechanics garage under heaters in attempt to defrost just to dump their loads and prevent damaging conveyors.

Salt Table 2

Given the various ranges, a simple scenario analysis tells us the following.

The City of New Rochelle loses or degrades between $113,750 and $455,000 a year worth of road salt due to exposure to the elements.

DPW vehicles are damaged by degraded (clumped, wet, frozen) salt at a cost of between $12,780 and $22,300 per storm.

If there are 5 storms per winter (and we have had two major storms already) that comes out to be $63,900 and $111,500 a year in damaged equipment and costs to replace parts plus labor.

Salt Table 3

The Low/High scenario is that at best (lowest) the failure to treat salt as a strategic asset to be protected from the elements in an indoor facility costs the City of New Rochelle $177,650 and at worst (highest) it costs $566,500.

At a cost of $250,000, the City would recoup its investment in a salt dome within 6 to 18 months.

Again, that is just based on direct cost.

This says nothing about having more men and equipment on the road, having dry salt that spreads better and covers the road more effectively remove covering snow down to the bare pavement.

Some members of City Council have argued that spending money on a salt dome is wasteful because the City plans to move the City Yard.

Based on these numbers, the City could afford to build a salt dome and tear it down in 18 months and come out ahead financially.

The RFP for Echo Bay went out in 2006 -- 8 years ago. Had a salt dome been built then the City would have had better snow removal that entire time AND saved anywhere from $1.4 mm to $4.5 mm making the $250,000 cost of salt dome laughably small.

Of course, no one should be laughing because that money could have been used to reduce property taxes or invested in snow removal training for DPW employees (Tergis's #1 priority) or purchased more and better equipment and more.

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