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In 2013 snow battle, Bemidji’s war chest more than enough

BEMIDJI — In Minnesota, some cities may as well count off dollars as well as inches when it snows.

The city of Duluth’s snow removal costs may end up being as much as $1 million over budget by year’s end. At one point in 2010, Minneapolis’ snow emergency fund was $3 million over budget.

Although Bemidji doesn’t have a budget line devoted specifically for snow removal, overall street maintenance costs are expected to come in at about $18,000 under budget for 2013, Public Works Director Craig Gray said Tuesday.

“We’re actually in OK shape,” he said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, slightly more than 8 feet of snow had fallen in the area in 2013, based on National Weather Service data. Dave Hansen, Bemidji street superintendent, estimated the city has hauled about 12,000 cubic yards of snow from downtown Bemidji streets and parking lots during this winter of 2013-2014. That’s compared to roughly 75,000 cubic yards for the entire 2012-2013 winter season.

This winter hasn’t been a walk in the park for the city by any means, however. Hansen said the frigid temperatures have forced road crews to spread more sand this winter rather than road salt and other chemicals.

“Throw salt, any chemical down, it’s just going to roll around and not activate in a timely fashion… you just basically waste it.” Hansen said. “We try to use (sand) sparingly, but we still have to use something that works.”

Sodium chloride road salt doesn’t work at temperatures below 15 degrees and a teaspoon of salt can pollute 5 gallons of water with no way of removing the chloride byproduct, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Using sand costs more time and money since it doesn’t dissolve in water and therefore leaves a mess on the streets for the city to clean up and move to disposal sites come spring, Hansen said.

“We have to sweep everything up,” he said.

During the winter of 2012-13, the city spread approximately 3,000 tons of sand on Bemidji streets with 10 percent salt added, Hansen said.

Gray said the city is budgeting $167,000 for street maintenance in 2014 — the same amount as 2013.

“In 2013, with a combination of overtime and street maintenance budget(s), we’re going to be $30,000 under budget,” he said. “There was no reason for us to request an increase for 2014.”