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Ice management retrospective

  • Dale Keep
- Posted: February 1, 2015
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing articles for Snow Business magazine for 10 years. The time has gone by quickly, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in such a highly regarded publication and look forward to continuing to do so. Over this past decade, I’ve seen changes in many areas of snow & ice management, yet in others some things have remained status quo. When it comes to ice management, it’s been a mix of both.

With so many interested parties (often with conflicting points of view) in play, it’s no wonder that progress has been hindered in some areas of ice management. Following is a breakdown of the key stakeholders:

Group One: Snow & Ice Control Service Seekers. Those who purchase your services are often interested in reducing chemical use for budget and environmental reasons, but they also have to focus on safety, mobility and liability. The reality is that the public demands high-speed mobility year-round, and contractors must comply or face the consequences. To achieve the level of service required by clients, this typically dictates the use of deicers to get the job done.

Group Two: Service Provider. Snow & ice management contractors must meet or exceed their clients’ expectations, or face losing the work, possible penalties, a bad reputation and/or litigation. So when areas of concern come to light and reality sets in, they dictate what action(s) is taken. When a contractor weighs the potential of an environmental concern (typically not an immediate one) versus not meeting the level of service, which will have immediate negative impacts, the actions taken under these conditions are obvious.

Group Three: Users
. Whether they’re shoppers, workers or travelers on a public road, they expect to be able to move safely and unhindered by weather and are quick to complain and/or take legal action if that environment is not provided. This group often spills into Group Four. On one hand they want bare roads and year-round mobility, but they also want contractors to reduce or eliminate salt or deicer use. Unfortunately, these two goals are often contradictory. 

Group Four: Environmentally Concerned
. This group sounds the alarm over groundwater contamination and other environmental issues, and they have every right to do so. However, reducing or eliminating salt use at the expense of safety and mobility is not as easy as it sounds. Maintaining safety and mobility at the expense of the environment may not be the best course of action either. Many service providers also fall into this group. They know they must deliver the level of service required by the contract, but they have environmental concerns.

Group Five: Plaintiffs. People in this group start legal action when things are not as they think they should be and suffer a loss (real or perceived) because of it. This group uses the legal system in an attempt to recover damages due to that loss or perceived loss. Again, when a service provider is put into the position of putting down a bit more salt rather than face legal actions, guess what wins? Is it right environmentally? No. Is it understandable and a dose of reality? Yes.

Group roles

I believe that the primary points of view of each group are important to the overall subject at hand. I’m not saying any one group is necessarily right or wrong, but each will play an even more important role in the future. Somehow the industry must find a way to strike a balance between protecting budgets, protecting the environment, level of service, mobility and public safety.

Cost of actions
I have stated many times that product cost does not equal purchase price. Some costs are seen and measured quickly, while others take more time. Sometimes there are costs that result from inaction. A good example of this is the Hudson River, which is classified by the EPA as one of the largest Superfund sites in the country. Is this due to the actions taken, the actions not taken, or both?

Reducing environmental impact
How can the industry balance all of the interests noted above? Most solutions come with a price - literally and figuratively - for all interested parties.

Reducing level of service goals. Reducing LOS goals or standards could lower or even eliminate the use of salt and other deicers. Without a doubt, this would be beneficial to the environment. However, other costs associated with this action could certainly be measured. Reduced mobility and safety could be impacted, and increased liability is a concern.

Replacing salt with abrasives. On the surface, using sand, grit, cinders, etc. as a salt alternative may sound like a good idea, but in reality there are many drawbacks to their use. High on the list of concerns is the environment. The statement I often hear about replacing salt or other deicers with environmentally friendly “sand” is simply misleading. The environmental concerns and cleanup related to sand are different than those of salt, but they are challenges (and costly ones) all the same.

Using non-chloride-based deicers. Non-chloride-based deicers are generally good products, but they come with a high purchase price. These products must also be measured in terms of bottom line cost of use. In many areas, with an honest appraisal of cost, they are beneficial in some applications. 

What’s next?
Solving the environmental issues while considering other legitimate factors associated with snow & ice control is not going to be easy. This is not a one-size-fits-all issue, nor will the answers be. All members of our society, regardless of the group(s) they fall into, have to decide what costs they are willing to pay, to what level, and with an understanding of the goals and concerns of all the other groups. 

I believe things are starting to change, and that the use of salt and deicer products from an environmental point of view is going to fall under more and more scrutiny. However, any triumphs on this subject must come from a cross section of perspectives and not from tunnel vision. The real answer lies in the evaluation of cost. Are the current practices actually the best and at the lowest cost overall, or will something with a higher purchase price immediately result in the lowest cost in the long run?  
Top 5 trends in ice management since 2005

1. Technology: New electronic tools have been developed to help contractors work more efficiently than ever. Technology that works with the spreader, for example, can control, record and track how much material was spread and how much time was spent on each job. This technology not only allows for better product control, which saves money, but also creates electronic documentation for billing and liability purposes.

2. Poly: While poly hopper spreaders were invented more than 10 years ago, they have continued to gain acceptance in recent years to the point where, today, most contractors understand the benefits of polyethylene construction, such as its corrosion resistance, low maintenance and light weight. In fact, poly hoppers can be up to 40 percent lighter than similar steel alternatives.

3. Specialized application equipment: Manufacturers have been developing more equipment to address specialty applications, such as sidewalks and stairs, which have challenged snow & ice management contractors for many years.

4. More efficient spreaders
: In the last 10 years, the industry has experienced some serious salt supply issues. As a result, contractors have been demanding spreaders that can help reduce material usage. To meet this demand, manufacturers have developed spreaders that can deliver a precise, measurable amount of material to the center of the spinner, unlike older spreader designs that dumped inconsistent amounts of material onto the spinner.

5. Liquids: Liquids have by far become the biggest trend in ice management. Contractors everywhere are getting their feet wet in liquids, and manu-facturers are coming out with equipment innovations that are purpose-built for pre-wetting, anti-icing and deicing.

– Source: SnowEx

Dale Keep owns Ice & Snow Technologies, a training and consulting company based in Walla Walla, WA. He has been contributing to Snow Business magazine since May 2005. He is a go-to resource for all things related to ice management, operations and more. 
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