As December's weather suggests a real winter is ahead, Delaware city and county are stocked up with salt and ready to maintain their roadways, according to their respective operating divisions.

As December's weather suggests a real winter is ahead, Delaware city and county are stocked up with salt and ready to maintain their roadways, according to their respective operating divisions.

The city and county are similar in their capacities, with each maintaining from six to 15 regular snow plows and staff and each having a similar number of road miles to clear each time a significant snow falls. The city has about 300 road miles, while the county maintains about 330 road miles.

The city uses 1,500 to 2,000 tons of salt a year.

The county, which has to contend with drifting snow on rural roads, uses about 3,000 tons of salt a year. Additionally, it annually buys another 4,000 tons which it sells to 14 townships.

"This month, so far, we've used 390 tons of salt and about 130 tons" of gravel, said Lee Yoakum, city spokesman.

Each ton of salt costs about $61 in the current market. During the past 10 years, the price has ranged from a low of $33 a ton to a high of $64 a ton.

"It depends on energy costs, fuel costs for the mining and transportation," Yoakum said.

Calculating the cost of snow removal would require special accounting, because part of the work is done during normal operating times when labor and equipment costs would be incurred even without snow. The city has 12 employees routinely available as drivers.

Each entity budgets a certain amount for overtime each year. The county budgets about 200 hours per road department employee, while the city budgets a total road and maintenance department overtime amount of 800 hours, about 80 percent of which occurs during the winter for snow removal.

Each department also expects to run around-the-clock shifts on occasion.

"In 2010, we will have spent about $124,000 on salt," Yoakum said. "That's about $50,000 above our average of $75,000 or so."

The typical annual salt cost for the county is about $456,000, said John Link, county operations manager.

The city maintains two storage structures, a main salt shed that holds about 1,200 tons, and a grit and salt mixture shed that holds about 400 tons. The county maintains a salt dome that holds about 6,000 tons, and a satellite facility in Genoa Township that holds about 400 tons.

Last year, the heaviest snow month was February, which saw 25 inches of snowfall in 17 days, creating extra costs for the city.

"It was about a $60,000 cost for us, in fuel and salt product, beyond what we anticipated," Yoakum said. "We had to find that money elsewhere or get a supplemental appropriation."

February 2010 and March 2008, when 15 inches of wet snow fell in 30 hours, were the two major events of the past five years, Yoakum said.

John Link, operations manager for the county, said he maintains 15 snow routes, so 15 drivers will be on the road at once for normal clearing operations. This past weekend saw a second shift of 10 drivers after the main shift of 15.

"Every time it snows we'll have 15 trucks on the road," Link said. "We have additional trucks and equipment we can use if necessary." He said the county has a maximum of 17 employees routinely available as drivers.

Both the city and county use a mix of gravel and salt. At one time it was common to use sand, but experience showed this created an air pollution particulate problem later, in addition to clogging storm sewers.

Environmental concerns can be an issue for some areas where salt domes are not protected from weather or are not maintained on impermeable pads. Neither the city nor the county has reported any major point source runoff or well contamination.

"Some areas are more sensitive than others," Link said. "Canada is more sensitive and they take steps. One thing they do is have snow melters, to heat the snow and melt it instead of using salt. It's expensive, but they feel it's worth it. We try to use alternate products besides salt, but salt is obviously a staple for us. We use sugar beet products and calcium chlorides, and salt brine."

Link said a new pavement technology is being offered that has resistance to snow and ice bonding, but there is little experience with it yet.

"What you don't want is snow to bond to the pavement," Link said. "If we spray brine or sugar beet product, the snow melts on contact. There is a new asphalt pavement that is coming out that has some qualities to keep snow and ice from bonding to the pavement."

No one expects salt to go away any time soon.

"I don't see us ever getting away from some sort of snow-melting material," Link said. "You have to have something."