The city of Delaware has a new philosophy on snow and ice removal: If you can't beat it, beet it.
City workers started using a mix of brine and sugar-beet juice in January to treat roads before snow or ice storms. The product, known as Ice Bite, is more effective at colder temperatures than traditional brine solutions, according to city officials.
City spokesman Lee Yoakum said frigid temperatures and the potential for a nationwide salt shortage had officials looking for ways to make the city's salt supply go further.
He said the brown mixture keeps roadways wet, even in temperatures near or below zero degrees. That makes salting and plowing more effective.
"We're seeing positive benefits -- enough it's something we want to continue to use this snow season" and possibly beyond, he said.
Although using sugar beets to fight snow and ice might sound odd at first, it's not uncommon.
Jay Walerstein, vice president of sales and marketing at Indianapolis-based Road Solutions, said municipal customers from Washington state to Maine use the company's Ice Bite products on city streets. He said a sugar-beet solution was not the only agricultural byproduct the company tested for snow- and ice-removal purposes.
"We did try a few other corn-based materials and hops- (and) wheat-based materials," he said. "They can work."
But it's the sugar-beet product that really caught on with customers.
Walerstein said the company has 300 government accounts in Ohio alone. He said one of the first steps in describing Ice Bite to potential customers is explaining that it is derived from the sugar beet, not the red beet, or beetroot, more commonly known in America.
The sugar beet is a white vegetable often grown for the sugar in its roots. Walerstein said the company buys its sugar beets from American growers, including farms in northern Ohio and Michigan.
Walerstein said one misconception he often has to clear up about his company's product involves color. He said people who hear the word beet and are not familiar with sugar beets might think the product will leave dark red stains on streets or vehicles.
"We have never had a city come to us (with) a complaint" about staining, he said.
As well as working at lower temperatures than salt alone or traditional brine solutions, Walerstein said Ice Bite has another benefit.
"It helps hold the salt and brine on the roadway where you put it," he said.
That way, drivers kick up less salt onto sidewalks, driveways and their vehicles as they roll over treated areas, he said.
Yoakum said city workers have been pleased with the results in using the sugar beet and brine mixture. He said the city has purchased 3,000 gallons of the product but has used little because the city is still "testing its use and application."
The experiment has cost the city about $4,200 so far.
This winter, the city has used 2,175 tons of salt, or about $98,000 worth. In the past 10 years, the most salt the city has used in a winter season was 2,340 tons in 2010-11.
After a delivery last week, the city had about 1,500 tons of salt on hand.
Walerstein said extreme cold and snow might cause head-aches for many, but the conditions are just right for his firm. He said officials are looking to make their cities' salt supplies last as frigid temperatures continue and salt suppliers battle to keep up with the pace of deliveries.
"Winters like this increase (the product's) need and popularity manyfold," he said.