The city is planning to experiment with a new type of road salt that would be more effective but also more expensive.
Highways and Parks Superintendent Michael E. Hoffman told the Common Council last week he has ordered two 35-ton loads of salt treated with an organic material derived from a byproduct created during the distillation of rum.
He said that mixing seven gallons of the rum byproduct with a ton of road salt produces a dark brown mixture that would melt snow and ice even at temperatures as low as minus-20 degrees. Normal salt stops working well when the air temperature is below 18 degrees above zero, Hoffman said.
The city pays about $26 a ton for regular salt. The treated salt, produced by Innovative Co. of Ajax, Ont., costs $38 a ton.
But Mayor Michael W. Tucker said if it works, the city may switch to the new salt completely when its current supply of untreated salt is exhausted.
"It costs less in the long run," Tucker said.
That's because the treated salt, despite its greater melting power, is less corrosive than ordinary salt. "It causes less corrosion when it goes to our sewers," Tucker said.
Hoffman said cars and concrete also will sustain less damage from the treated salt than from the typical stuff.
"It's 10 percent as corrosive [as regular salt]," Hoffman said. "If we had had this in the parking ramp, we'd probably still have a parking ramp."
The city's concrete parking ramp on Main Street has been closed since August because of structural deterioration blamed on three decades of road salt. The Council hasn't decided whether to repair or demolish it, but at present the city lacks the money to do either.
Hoffman said there are other good points about the treated salt. He said the grains don't bounce as far when they hit the pavement and stick better where they land. That means passing traffic doesn't blow the salt toward the curb as easily and the salt stays where its melting power is needed.
Its residual effect also lasts longer, meaning freshly falling snow is more likely to melt on contact.
The test loads, expected to arrive in mid-January, will be used primarily on bridges.
Hoffman said the city uses 2,600 tons of road salt in an average winter, and uses about 100 tons to clear a single heavy snowfall.