De-icer clears Olympia streets

OLYMPIA - Olympia crews sprayed preventive de-icer on the city streets for the first time in several years during the recent bout of snowy weather, the first test of the city's newly updated snow and ice removal policy.

The city treated hills and bridges Friday night, then had four crews with plows and sanders work all Sunday night and Monday morning, said Kevin Krall, street operations supervisor for the city. It’s the first time for the de-icer in perhaps seven years, he said.

The city discontinued de-icing several years ago due to budget cuts, but decided to restore it after a series of storms dumped more than a foot of snow last December. Krall believes the icepack that lingered for days could have been eliminated a lot sooner if the city had used the de-icer.

“That was something that really jumped it up on our priority list,” Krall said. “We need to be more prepared for these types of things.”

The type of de-icer, a salt brine, is also new to the city. It is a combination of whey, saltwater and molasses to help the substance adhere to the road. Krall said the city bought it from Thurston County, which also uses it, and is storing it in a 4,000-gallon tank.

Previously the city used a more traditional calcium magnesium acetate, Krall said. But it opted to go with the salt brine this year because it is cheaper – about $2 per gallon, he said. He said it’s unclear which substance is more environmentally friendly.

That’s not the only change to the snow removal policy this year. The city has also designated secondary streets that will be cleared after primary arterials.

Primary streets include Harrison Avenue, Black Lake Boulevard and Martin Way. After treating them, crews will move to secondary streets – such as Mottman Road, Conger Avenue and Wiggins Road.

After secondary streets are treated, crews could move into neighborhood routes such as Eskridge Boulevard, Decatur Street and Carlyon Avenue.

Clearing downtown streets is a low priority for the city, according to the city’s Web site. Downtown streets aren’t cleared until there is an accumulation of 6 inches or more and freezing conditions are in the extended forecast.

Snow does not accumulate on downtown streets like it does in the rest of the city because of roadway temperatures and traffic volumes, the city report says. “Also, there is no place to plow the snow without blocking on-street parking.”

Residents are allowed to plow their neighborhood streets, but should use caution not to damage reflective buttons on the road.

If the current weather forecast holds, they may not have to. Temperatures are returning to a regular winter pattern – highs in the mid-40s, lows in the mid-30s, and rain.

“It looks like we’re on the way back to normal right now,” said Jay Albrecht, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.

In fact, this winter is a moderate El Niño winter, he said, averaging warmer and drier for the whole winter. Though that doesn’t rule out cold snaps, a white Christmas is looking unlikely, Albrecht said.

“We are getting closer to that date now,” he said. “I really don’t see a pattern that would be conducive to it.”