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Melter reduces Buffalo’s snow piles to water

The towering heaps of snow peaked at 15 feet and covered more than two dozen parking spaces in an Ellicott Street parking lot – an intimidating sight for even the most seasoned landscaping crew.

But not for the Snow Dragon – a machine packed with so much burning power it can heat 75 homes.

For two hours Tuesday, it reduced the white stuff to running water, melting 18 tons of snow per hour. The snow-melting machine was at work for an equipment demonstration organized by Elbers Landscape Service.

“We wanted some of our customers to take a look at the new technology in snow removal,” said James E. Hornung, president of Elbers, which is contracted to remove snow at the lot and other sites on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Larkin Development Group already own their own machines and use them on their parking ramps.

“It’s great for what we have it for,” said Bruce Glass, director of facilities and operations for the Larking Development Group, which bought its machine in the summer of 2012. “With the snowmelter we don’t lose any parking spaces. Once it’s plowed, the snow disappears quickly using the melter.”

The machine eliminates the need for a crew of four or five workers, using dump trucks to haul snow off site in the wee hours of the morning or on the weekends. With the snowmelter, one operator is needed to operate a front loader that dumps the snow into the unit, Hornung said.

Snow Dragon is manufactured in Ohio, and its prices range from $170,000 to $1 million. The company’s smallest unit, which is made for parking ramps, is compact with a burner output at 5.8 million BTU per hour. The size of a Ford Escape, it looks like a dumpster on wheels.

Snowmelting machines aren’t new; airports have used the machines for decades, but Snow Dragon has found a way to manufacture smaller units for contractors and facilities, said Jennifer Binney, a sales and marketing representative for Snow Dragon, who attended the demonstration.

“It allows you to manage snowplowing quickly; it’s just speeding up Mother Nature,” Binney said.

As it melts the snow, the machine separates the debris from the water, and the water flows into a drain.

Mark M. McGovern, senior projects manager for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, took in the demonstration with representatives from All Pro Parking, and he liked what he saw.

The piles of snow, accumulated from a relentless winter, took up 40 to 50 parking spots, leaving the busy Medical Campus in a “parking bind.” With the traditional method of front loaders and dump trucks, removal has to be done when the parking lot isn’t filled with cars. But with the compact snowmelter it’s done with a full lot.

“I can see how it can be handy, especially on the top deck of a parking ramp,” he said.

Glass said with ramps, snow removal is potentially dangerous because the snow is dumped on the ground from the top of the ramps. But with the machine, it’s no longer an issue.