Plan now for snow removal

In the days after January’s major winter storm dumped about 14 inches of snow on our area, Warren officials defended their city’s snow-clearing efforts.

They said the city was using a 1-to-2 combination of salt to ice-control material, or ICM, which is ash-like material. At the time, Councilman Ken MacPherson raised doubts about that ratio, saying with that amount of salt, city roads should have been cleared much faster than they were.

Now a Tribune Chronicle investigation into the city’s snow removal efforts has brought to light that, faced with inadequate salt supplies and a very real risk of running out of salt, the city, in fact, was loading its trucks with even less salt. They were using a 1-to-3 salt-to-ICM mixture.

By comparison, Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith tells us county road crews generally use a 1-to-1 mixture ratio, and during that mid-January weekend, almost half of the county’s trucks were dropping 100 percent salt in their efforts to keep up with the heavy snowfall.

So, you may ask, how did the city get into that situation?

Months before a single winter snow flake had fallen, Warren leaders opted to pass on offers from Trumbull County to purchase salt as part of the county-wide consortium. In fact, we have been told city officials didn’t have the courtesy to even respond with a simple “no.” They simply didn’t respond to the county’s invitation that came in April.

Six months went by and Warren operations Superintendent Frank Tempesta said he knew he had a problem when he had not yet received the city’s usual contract from Morton Salt. When the contract finally arrived in October, the company offered to sell the city only up 1,250 tons at $82.50 per ton.

That left the city to enter winter with about 2,250 tons of road salt — 1,000 tons left from last year plus 1,250 tons ordered from Morton Salt. That is less than half of the 4,000 to 6,000 tons Warren uses in an average winter.

Salt purchased through the county’s consortium would have cost $50.71 per ton with no limits on the amount. County trucks would have delivered the salt to the city’s bins for $25 per truckload, so even with the additional hauling fee, the cost would have been comparable or less than the city’s $82.50 per ton.

Tempesta said he didn’t know that, but county officials say Warren officials never bothered to ask.

To be fair, at the time of the April order, salt suppliers could not estimate or guarantee cost per ton.

Still, doesn’t it stand to reason that a purchase of tens of thousands of tons of salt would come in at a comparable or even lower cost per ton than Warren normally would pay for its own smaller quantity of salt?

Two days after the storm, we opined in this space that the still snow-caked streets proved Warren must do better on its snow removal efforts.

Sunday’s Tribune Chronicle story also brought to light that in those two days following the storm — when the still snow-covered, slippery roads prompted our editorial comment — 12 operations department workers used vacation, sick and personal days to take off. We see that as signs of both poor management and poor morale.

Undoubtedly, the big storm exposed serious weaknesses in planning, operations and management, and Councilman MacPherson is right to demand answers and accountability.

We are hopeful that northeast Ohio now is done with major snow storms for this winter. If that turns out to be true, now would be the right time to begin planning in order to ensure Warren’s motorists that, come next year, we won’t be facing the same driving challenges when the snow starts to fall.