Tulsa council meeting turns salty discussing city's snow response
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
2/09/11 at 4:02 AM
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As the state braced for the latest snowy blast in an epic stretch of winter weather, city councilors on Tuesday accused Mayor Dewey Bartlett of mismanaging salt application to Tulsa's streets.
"It's time to point the finger," Councilor Jack Henderson said during a heated committee meeting discussion.
"We just take whatever someone says as the Bible," he said. "That's crap!"
Bartlett denied that he has ordered minimal salt use by street crews and no pre-treatment of streets.
But Henderson said that Public Works employees were ordered not to use salt and were told that directive came from the mayor.
"Why would they lie?" Henderson said.
Bartlett defended the city's storm response so far, noting that blizzard conditions, 14 inches of snow and a high number of abandoned vehicles made the snow removal effort "very difficult."
He said that every bit of the city's equipment was being used, and the "storm isn't over. We will still have more to fight."
Street crews, school officials and shelters kept a watchful eye Tuesday as another major winter storm built in the country's midsection. National Weather Service forecasters were predicting up to 9 inches of snow could fall in Tulsa, while state lawmakers canceled their work for the rest of the week in Oklahoma City ahead of the storm.
'Why are we in this fix:' Henderson said Tulsa's salt usage doesn't add up to the normal application amount and encouraged the mayor to just "fess up and own up to it."
Councilors noted that Public Works officials have said previously that roughly 3,500 tons of salt are used for each two to three days of winter storm response.
As of noon Tuesday, the city had used 2,323 tons of salt since the winter weather began a week ago.
After the meeting, Public Works Deputy Director Dan Crossland said it would only make sense to use salt sparingly if the city was running out, but plenty of salt was available when the storm arrived last week.
Henderson also said employees told him that frozen salt lodged in some spreaders and caused the vehicles to be inoperable.
After the meeting, Henderson said he would not give out the names of the employees who had spoken to him for fear of retribution.
Bartlett said he was unaware of problems with vehicles and questioned the validity of the alleged employee statements.
Armed with his personal camera and shooting from the hip, Bartlett occasionally broke the tension of the meeting by taking candid snapshots of the councilors. The mayor is an amateur photographer specializing in black-and-white film. He said after the meeting that he wanted to capture what a council meeting is like from his perspective.
Some councilors questioned why less salt has been used than during previous smaller winter weather events.
"For schools to be out as long as they have been out, that means that somebody did not concentrate on the areas that they normally concentrate on such as schools, hospitals, not downtown," Henderson said. "Why are we in this fix?"
Pretreating streets: Councilor Bill Christiansen said he does not understand why there was no pretreatment of the streets.
"We weren't proactive. We were reactive," Christiansen said.
"I think we needed a formal plan and real hard look at pre-application because Broken Arrow did pre-application, Owasso did pre-application and two or three days into the event their streets were relatively good," he said.
Applying no pretreatment or minimizing the overall salt usage is "just playing Russian Roulette with the economy and lives of the citizens in Tulsa," he said. "The streets were in the condition they were because there was no pre-application."
Bartlett explained that dry salt is not applied to pavement as a pretreatment because it doesn't stay on the street due to wind and traffic.
Christiansen pointed to the Salt Institute handbook, which states timing is crucial in applying salt and that brine should be applied to streets prior to a storm's arrival.
After the meeting, Bartlett said Christiansen doesn't know what he's talking about because brine is not dry salt, but a very expensive liquid salt chemical that is sprayed on streets.
As of noon Tuesday, the cost of the weeklong storm response was $262,023, including $111,609 for employee overtime and $150,414 for salt. Thee figures do not include costs for water employees or private contractors assisting in the effort.
Water lines, trash and buses: The city had 17 reported waterline breaks on Tuesday in mostly small, six-inch lines. There were no reports of large areas without service.
Trash collection is still planned for Wednesday even though weather and road conditions may prevent service to some customers.
Wednesday customers who are missed on their scheduled pickup day will get collection on Thursday or Friday, if road conditions allow.
There will be no recycling service Wednesday.
Tulsa Transit is continuing to run service on all daytime fixed routes. Service was not running on the regular schedules due to the reduced number of vehicles functional in the fleet.
Wednesday's Lift Program service is limited to dialysis passengers only.
Salt usage Q&A
Answers by Dan Crossland, Public Works deputy director of public facilities
Q: Was there a conscious effort to use less salt?
A: No. Each storm is different depending on the form of precipitation, ground temperature and whether there already is moisture accumulations on the street.
It would only make sense to use salt sparingly if we were running out of salt, but as this storm arrived we had plenty of salt available in our two maintenance yards.
Unlike the snow event in 2007, the current conditions called for more plowing and less salt while the snow was falling. Once enough snow was removed from the streets, then salt application is practical.
Q: Why not pre-apply granular salt to streets ahead of heavy snowfalls?
A: It is a waste of salt because it gets blown off by wind and vehicular traffic. If there is more than a few inches of snow, it gets washed away during the melting process.
Q: Why don't we use brine (liquid salt mixture) as a pre-treatment as recommended by the Salt Institute?
A: The use of brine to pre-treat streets is not a common practice in cities at latitudes similar to Tulsa. Brine is used in northern cities as a supplement to application of granular salt, but not as a substitute.
Pre-treatment usually consists of application of more costly materials, like a magnesium chloride solution, which, if applied to bridges and overpasses, can sometimes prevent the ice/pavement bond from forming too quickly, and thereby buying time to allow for treatment with regular salt.
Q: Were there trucks that had frozen salt which caused them to break down?
A: It is normal for some of the salt to clump and jam the spreaders. The employees then have to stop the truck and use shovels or other tools to break up the salt clumps to make the spreaders work efficiently. This occurs in every winter storm. On any given day during winter storms, two or three or more of the 55 trucks must undergo repairs to blades, hydraulics, spreaders or other mechanical systems.
Tulsa's winter totals for snowfall and salt usage
Source: City Council
Original Print Headline: Tulsa council meeting turns salty discussing city's snow response
P.J. Lassek 581-8382
City workers David Bradshaw (left), and Derrick Crofford dig around a fractured water main next to a house at 12th Street and Atlanta Place in Tulsa on Tuesday. As freezing temperatures continue, water lines continue to freeze. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
City of Tulsa plant mechanic helpers Tommy Eubanks, Brian Clark, and Marvin Tharps shovel a sidewalk on Main Street between Fourth and Fifth streets downtown Tuesday. Tulsa expected to get hit with another storm into Wednesday. CHRISTOPHER SMITH/ Tulsa World