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Green Bay Public Works saves 25% of salt by using brine

Salt-water combination works as anti-icing agent
Posted at 1:14 AM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 02:14:03-05

GREEN BAY, Wis. — With winter making its presence known in Northeast Wisconsin already more in 2021 than in 2020, Green Bay's Department of Public Works has deployed snow plows and salt trucks multiple times before Christmas.

For nearly eight years, Green Bay has used brine – a mixture of salt and water, that's it – instead of dry rock salt to combat winter weather accumulation. Officials say the switch saves both the environment and taxpayer money.

"It is an effective thing to do in the industry for taking care of infrastructure in terms of winter maintenance, Public Works-type activities, but it's the thing to do because it saves money," Chris Pirlot, operations division director for the Department of Public Works said. "Not only does it save the environment, but it saves money because we can use less salt to do the same thing we did when we were just sprinkling rock salt down."

Pirlot has been with DPW for 31 years, and estimates that the department uses 25-30% less salt since switching to brine. The target brine mixture is 23% salt by weight.

There's a lot of planning and constant weather tracking that goes into how the street team will handle snow. Street Supervisor Josh Brassfield was monitoring the National Weather Service on Thursday for updates about a storm to come Friday night.

"It takes about six hours to plan it to get everybody notified," Brassfield said. "We have those spreader trucks that go out early to, you know, try to make the primary road safe, and then when the accumulation is big enough, then everybody gets called in and we'll plow the entire city."

Ahead of a weather event, Pirlot says trucks will "anti-ice" the roads with brine in a "preemptive strike" to stave off accumulation for as long as possible.

"Sometimes we call it candy striping the streets because once it's dried, you see the white stripes on the streets," Pirlot said.

Once precipitation starts accumulating, Brassfield will send trucks to constantly plow approximately 140 miles of artillery roads which are considered main traffic routes that handle 80% of the city's traffic. City plows do not handle residential streets until the end of a snowfall event and only with 2 or more inches of accumulation on the ground.

It's a fickle game to play between timing and monitoring temperature drops, Brassfield explains, but if roads begin to get icy, they do have sand and calcium chloride in stock to use on residential streets as they will not use salt or brine on those roads.

"If we were to put salt on every street in the city like we do to our arterial streets, we'd probably have to buy four times more salt than we do right now," Pirlot explains.

Currently, Green Bay is also operating with a surplus of salt from last year's winter. Brassfield said they are trying to be conservative with their use as they prepare for a winter with more snow.

Brassfield estimates that one singular round of brine on artillery roads costs between $15,000 and $20,000. Plowing the entire city costs upwards of $75,000.