Editorial: Rethink salt barn plan

Evanston aldermen should send city staff back to the drawing board to come up with a better proposal for a new city salt storage facility.

It a time of financial strain like the present, the city needs a solution that is more cost-effective.

It should investigate cost-sharing solutions with neighboring communities.

And it needs to find a solution that won't blight residential neighborhoods or take away park land.

Evanston's existing salt dome.

An approach used by Des Moines, Iowa, and surrounding communities reported in the American Public Works Association Reporter offers a possible model. Here are some highlights:

  • The collaborating communities built two salt storage buildings in 2009 with a combined capacity of 22,000 tons for a total construction cost of $1.2 million. That's a cost per ton of less than a quarter of what's being proposed for Evanston.
  • By collaborating, the communities were able to find a site on industrial land owned by their local waste authority.
  • To keep costs under control, they built steel-framed, fabric covered "hoop-type" storage buildings that are said to have a useful life of 30 years, although the fabric covering will need replacement after 15 years.

What towns might Evanston collaborate with on a joint solution? Well, at least as of a year-and-a-half-ago, when this story appeared, Skokie had a salt dome the same size as Evanston's that appeared to be of roughly the same age as Evanston's two-decade-old dome.

If we really need more salt storage capacity and a replacement storage building, perhaps Skokie does as well.

Back in 2008, the city incurred substantial additional costs to buy salt after a snowy winter caused usage to double from average levels. 

But as this story from APWA Reporter suggests, collaboration with neighboring towns and use of backup storage sites can help cope with such issues. And, as NPR reports, there now may even be ways to use the futures markets to hedge against spikes in snow-related costs.

If we again have a 10,000 tons of salt winter, as we did in 2008, a 4,000 ton storage building may moderate, but won't eliminate, the risk of price spikes.

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Comments

Joint salt storage

The idea of a joint salt storage project sounds good if bordering communities are interested, but a couple of points to consider.

1. Additional fuel and other operating costs to the City's fleet for hauling salt from storage to City for distribution.

2. Possible delays in getting salt to City streets in case of really bad storm that slows even truck traffic to a distant facility.

3. A local storage and distribution site may still be needed to ensure a supply is available for early response and so every salt truck/plow doesn't have to go out of service to travel to joint facility.

Cost management by purchasing a full years supply before winter weather drives up demand or ice stops barge traffic is a pretty sound approach.

New Salt dome may not be the answer

Looking back at the article in 2008 - the city was buying the salt in September, well before winter.

So how will building a large facility help?    Did the city go out after looking for the salt in the spring or summer?   Building a new dome will not make staff accountable to engage in commodities purchases.

We need to remember these are the same group that under estimated the sale of yard waste stickers by $700,000.  almost double the extra cost of the salt in the winter of 2008.

Beyond this issue, is this a good use of the Capital,  I seem to recall Wally as stated we need to use operating funds to fund the capital, seems to me there are higher priority here than building a salt dome.

Proposals from the Head of Public Works should be scruitinized

ANY proposal from the current head of  Public Works should be severely scrutinized.

Remember, this is the person who wanted homeowners to be responsible for litter/leaf control in the streets while also pushing a proposal that would limit composting.

Public Works also oversees the transportation planning in the city and you can see by the anemic implementation of the Bike Plan (vintage 2002) and MultiModal Transportation Plan that they do very little to look at new and innovative policies being implemented in other cities.

The city seriously needs new leadership in that department--until that happens, every single proposal coming from there is suspect.

why not get rid of all parking enforcement?

Can you imagine the chaos if the city allowed people to disregard parking regulations? This would happen if there were no tickets issued - no enforcement. For all the posted signs, parking would soon be out of control.

That's the way it is with recycling. There is never a ticket issued, never a blue bin un-emptied regardless of what is in it. Since the city picks up recycling now, it would be a simple matter to slap a violation sticker on any blue bin containing plastic bagged recyclables or anything else not on the list of acceptable items and leave that bin un-emptied.

Public Works refuses to take this cost-free measure, so garbage increasingly fills the blue bins exactly as you would expect. How many decades has this been going on now? My direct communication to Public Works Director Suzette Robinson over the years has had absolutely no effect. Without enforcement, no city rules are taken seriously, so I have to assume that recycling in Evanston is just a means of keeping people on the payroll to pick up trash in blue bins.

Salt storage

Why not use the city-owned property on Oakton, the old, empty, unused, up for sale Recycling Center for the new salt storage building?

Salt Barn

I think you had better rethink several of your ideas for the locations of the salt barn.  The north end of the NU parking lot is on Isabella directly across from residential homes in Wilmette. I feel that is unlikely that this could occur with the added noise from the trucks in picking up their salt and the Wilmette residents in their homes.

This surely is a poor idea.

who cares about Wilmette?

"  The north end of the NU parking lot is on Isabella directly across from residential homes in Wilmette"

 

So now we have to keep the WILMETTE NIMBYs happy too?   

Salt Storage

I have a perfect solution that is right in line with the trending thoughts of our city's leaders.  They should just store the salt in all the vacancies in the Fountain Square building, BOTH of the emptied Border's locations, Peir 1 Imports' former home, anywhere on Chicago Avenue between Kedzie and Keeney, or any of the stores in the hot and trendy "West Village" mall (formerly known as the corner of Dempster and Dodge).


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