After one of the mildest winters in recent memory, Worthington service-department officials say they are not planning for another easy season of snow removal and should have the equipment to stand up to any storms that blow their way.
Service and engineering director Dan Whited called the winter of 2016-17 "very light" and said it was "one of, if not the lightest" he had ever seen.
The city recorded just 7.5 inches of snow over 11 "events" throughout the entire winter.
The previous season also was mild, with the 2015-16 winter providing 10.5 inches of snow over seven events.
In 2014-15, however, the department measured more than 38 inches of snow over 20 events, with seven incidents of freezing rain.
With harsher winters like that season in mind, Whited said, he and his team are not banking on another easy winter. Instead, he said, he wants to see the service department improve its response and preparation techniques.
"We're really, honestly, stepping up our game and hoping to do better on proactive de-icing of roadways prior to storms," he said.
Part of that process has been the purchase of a "brine-maker" that the city can use to manufacture its own brine to proactively treat roads rather than purchasing it elsewhere. Whited said the machine cost about $35,000 but is expected to pay for itself in about five years, based on average brine costs.
With the brine-maker, the city will be able to make the mixture of salt and water for about 10 cents per gallon. Last year, when they were buying their brine – sometimes mixed with beet juice to hold the product together – it cost $1.15 per gallon.
"By producing our own brine, it should be cheaper in-house and we're not at the mercy of the vendors," service and engineering superintendent Steve Tennant said.
With the self-produced brine, Whited and Tennant said they hope to do a better job of getting ahead of potential weather issues.
Whited said the department would prepare for the "worst-case scenario" and make an effort to stop problems before they begin.
"We'll try to do a more proactive approach instead of reactive approach," Tennant said. "A lot of other communities are already doing that and that's what those white brine lines are on the road."
Tennant said "preparation went well" for the first snow accumulation of the season Dec. 9.
He said Worthington got about an inch of precipitation, though the department doesn't have a "sophisticated" way of measuring snowfall.
Meanwhile, the city used only 399 tons of salt last year – a total dwarfed by the 2,038 tons used in 2014-15 – but Tennant said the department is prepared with nearly 2,000 tons of salt this season and is operating under the assumption that it will need to be used.
"You never know when you're going to have that winter when you have snowfall after snowfall after snowfall," he said. "You start seeing that (salt) barn get depleted, and even if you have 500 tons in there, it makes you uneasy."
Tennant said he is sure of the quality of his snow-removal staff and the equipment at their disposal.
He categorized the city's equipment as "state-of-the-art" and said it is in a sweet spot of the replacement schedule in which almost every truck is only a few years old. Combined with an "outstanding staff that's well-educated and does a fantastic job," Tennant said he is confident.
"We're kind of changing a bit on how we come in and react to snow removal," Tennant said. "But Dan and I are really excited about the staff we've got here. They're eager to learn new technologies and I'm blessed to have such a great team."
Whited said implementation of new technology – whether it's the trucks or the brine-maker – is important to him.
"We've really taken a concerted effort to integrate technology to a higher level," he said. "We don't want to be on the bleeding edge but we'd like to be right there using technology to its best use for efficiency, effectiveness or to maintain or increase our levels of service to the citizens of Worthington."
For information on the city's snow and ice policies, including which streets are prioritized during heavy snowfall, go to worthington.org.