Salt takes on the wintery road conditions alone in Columbia

Thursday, February 11, 2010 | 3:31 p.m. CST; updated 6:06 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 11, 2010

COLUMBIA — Columbia residents might have noticed cleaner streets during the past weekend's snowy weather.

Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the Columbia Public Works Department, said snow removal crews treated snow and ice with salt, not cinders, at the request of the City Council.

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill proposed eliminating cinders — a byproduct of the coal burned at the city's power plant — after hearing an overwhelming number of complaints about the mess they create. He said the city is trying a salt-only approach primarily to solve that problem, but he also worries about the environmental implications.

"There can't be anything good coming from cinders washed down the storm sewers," he said. "There's got to be a better way to do it. ... Any potential environmental benefit is just going to be a bonus on top of it."

Stedem said that though cinders are harmful to the environment, salt might not solve that problem.

"There's nothing that's guaranteed to be environmentally friendly at this point," she said.

Although Thornhill said the city will refrain from cinder use for the rest of the winter, Stedem said she's not so sure about that. She said the city will monitor costs for this season and analyze whether a permanent switch to salt is affordable.

The budget for snow removal materials is $630,689, according to a report to the council from Public Works Director John Glascock. Salt costs about $60 per ton, while cinders are free.

"It's a cost-effective way for us to put down treatment," Stedem said. "It helps with added traction."

The Columbia Municipal Power Plant provides the Public Works Department with cinders at no cost.

If the street division decides not to use them anymore, the Water and Light Department know of other people who want to have the cinders, spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said. Entities around central Missouri request cinders for road, agricultural or construction use, but the city's street crews have always been first priority.

Despite worries about the presence of toxins in cinders, Kacprowicz said all of the power plant's cinders and emissions are inspected and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. These records are available to the Public Works Department.

"As far as the negative health impact, it met all the EPA standards," she said.

Thornhill said he hopes that the Public Works cost analysis will show that it's possible to budget for snow removal without cinders.

"The goal would be to eliminate cinders altogether," he said.

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