The University of Michigan started putting together a rock-salt-reduction program in 1989. The university wanted to use brine — a salt and water mixture — and other liquids as a substitute for rock salt and sand.
“We’re very big on sustainability and environmental issues,” Lawter says. “So we have a pretty robust salt-and-sand-reduction program.”
The department operates its own brine maker on campus, and the university is buying another unit in 2008. The total cost of the brine maker, including storage tanks, plumbing, and installation, is about $20,000, Lawter says. But virtually eliminating rock salt has helped protect the infrastructure of bridges, concrete, and steel structures, as well as reduced the amount of replanting and reseeding each spring to account for salt damage to landscaped areas.
“It used to be the first 1 or 2 feet in from any sidewalk would be totally dead, and we’d have to reseed and replant that,” Lawter says. “We still have some of that, but nothing like it used to be. We do have some savings there.”
The university has 60 full-time workers dedicated to snow removal, and the custodial staff helps with entryways when needed. The university also has employed a snow matrix for the last five years.
“We have a matrix that we use to figure out what kind of response we would do, depending on whether it was snow or ice or freezing rain,” Lawter says, adding the department also monitors ground temperature. “The matrix basically tells us how we should respond.”
The detailed response plan ensures the department does not waste time or resources managing snow and ice. Grounds workers can trust the plan and simply react when snow hits.
“I was surprised at what a science it is in terms of how you respond,” Lawter says. “It makes a difference if you get there a little late or the temperatures have changed a little. It can totally throw off your whole program.”
Developing a Plan for Snow and Ice Removal
How To Eliminate Rock Salt and Sand
Snow and Ice Removal: Preventive Maintenance