The salt dome outside the Madison Heights Department  of Public Services at 801 Ajax Drive holds thousands of  tons of salt that will be used to de-ice slippery roads.

The salt dome outside the Madison Heights Department of Public Services at 801 Ajax Drive holds thousands of tons of salt that will be used to de-ice slippery roads.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Madison Heights DPS reviews preparations for snow control

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 4, 2019


MADISON HEIGHTS — This winter has been mild overall, so far. But that doesn’t mean the employees at the Madison Heights Department of Public Services are relaxing just yet.

“While I do not put much stock in weather predictions, the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Climate Prediction Center is anticipating a mild winter with warmer than normal temperatures, as well as a drier than normal precipitation outlook,” said Corey Almas, deputy DPS director. “Regardless of what the weather forecasters are predicting, we try to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

He said this includes the DPS Motorpool Division performing a thorough inspection and assessment of the city’s snow removal fleet and making repairs where necessary. The DPS staff takes inventory and stock of the required materials — salt, plows, plow blades and curb guards — and route maps are reviewed annually and sometimes revised for better efficiency.

“Lastly, the DPS operators all go through an in-house winter operations training (period) prior to each winter season,” Almas explained.

At press time around the start of the new year, there hadn’t been any significant snowfall yet, but Sean Ballantine, public services analyst and planner, thinks that may change.

“Winter thus far has been surprisingly warm, with little precipitation, which is following the (NOAA’s) prediction,” Ballantine said. “That being said, I feel that this is the calm before the storm — it has been too temperate for too long, and I would not be surprised to see some significant snowfall (in 2019).”

The city defines a snow event as anytime when the road conditions warrant salting, plowing or both. Madison Heights had a total of 31 snow events last winter — the 15th snowiest on record, with average temperatures slightly under the norm, according to the NOAA — and two of those snow events were considered “snow emergencies.”

A snow emergency is defined under city ordinance as either an event that produces 4 or more inches of snow accumulation; a National Weather Service forecast predicting snowfall of 4 inches or more within a 12-hour period; or any combination of snow, ice or freezing rain that results in 4 inches or more of snow/ice within a 36-hour period.

A total of 5,363 tons of salt were used last winter, which exceeded the annual average of 4,482 tons per season. The city currently has 3,200 tons of salt stockpiled in the salt dome, with another 1,000 tons of seasonable backup available for delivery. The city also gets extra use out of its salt by mixing it into a brine solution.

“Typically, it snows at some point overnight, we get called in, we salt and go home, generally in three hours or less. But last year, the events seemed to be much more prolonged,” Ballantine said. “Repeated squalls glazed the roads over when we were nearly finished, or extreme temperatures made it take much longer to get the roads broken down to water.”

Almas said that the DPS often relies on the Madison Heights Police Department to determine when the roads are becoming slick, especially after the DPS’ normal working hours.

“When the officers on patrol observe that the roads are glazing or becoming slippery, they then notify the dispatch to contact the DPS supervisors and place a request for salt,” Almas said. “At that point, we will assemble a crew and deploy the fleet, based on the severity of the weather and the road conditions. We routinely keep a close eye on the forecast and do our best to stay in front of inclement weather.”

Ballantine explained that salt is the primary method of fighting a routine snowfall, which is usually 2 inches or less. The plows go on the trucks when the snow is heavy or predicted to accumulate for an extended period of time.

The city’s fleet includes five tandem-axle dump trucks for salting, three single-axle dump trucks for salting, one single-axle dump truck for sanding new concrete roads, three 1-ton dump trucks for plowing heavier snow, and a number of pickup trucks with plows on them.

“We do not want to waste salt by continuing to throw it at several inches of snow,” Ballantine said.

Snow and ice control is performed on all major roads — among them Campbell Road, Stephenson Highway, John R and Dequindre roads, and all mile roads from 11 Mile to 14 Mile — as well as secondary routes, such as school bus routes or major residential thoroughfares.

“The design is such that a resident is never that far from a clear road,” Ballantine said.

Crews also tend to municipal buildings, sidewalks and other facilities.

“When a snow emergency is declared, all hands are on deck, and the DPS is almost exclusively plowing snow until every road is cleared, curb to curb, and all major and secondary roads are down to water,” Ballantine said. “Every snow event is different and requires the ability to think on our feet and adjust accordingly.”

During a snow emergency, residents are notified by way of a news release to local TV and radio stations, as well as on the city’s cable channel, website, message boards and Facebook page. Residents then have six hours to remove their cars from the streets.

“This is to protect their vehicles, our staff and equipment, and to allow DPS to clear the road as quickly and safely as possible,” Ballantine said, adding that the cars must remain off the street until the snow emergency is lifted, and that garbage day parking restrictions are still in effect all year.

He also noted that while the city is still in “post-recession” and resources are still limited in terms of staffing levels and vehicle replacements, the city always makes snow control a top priority for its residents and business owners, “whether the phone rings at 11 at night or 3 in the morning, or in the middle of Christmas dinner with our family,” he said.

Ballantine said that he hopes residents will be patient with snow plowed onto their driveways, since there is no other place for it to go. He noted that many DPS staff members live in the city and when they’re finished with their shift, they have to go home and shovel it out of their own driveways like everyone else, except it’s usually frozen solid by then.

At the end of the day, DPS officials say their department works hard and strives to uphold the city’s reputation for having clean and safe roads.

“The DPS staff takes a lot of pride in being the best at what we do,” Almas said. “And to be the best, we’d better be prepared for whatever comes our way. We’re ready.”