City mulls de-icer; cost skyrockets |

City mulls de-icer; cost skyrockets

Janet Urquhart

Aspen may dump more than $300,000 worth of chemicals on its streets this winter if it continues its ban on the controversial de-icer magnesium chloride, the City Council was told yesterday.

The vastly increased cost estimates for alternatives to mag chloride use had the council reviewing its options during its informal noon meeting.

Though the council made no decisions, members indicated they might be willing to put more money into good old-fashioned manpower or equipment for the streets department given the staggering costs of CMAK, the de-icer Aspen is trying this winter.

A winter’s worth of mag chloride, a cheap and highly effective de-icer that the city stopped using in February 1998, would cost about $4,000, according to the streets department. The city budgeted $80,000 to use CMAK – a combination of calcium magnesium acetate and potassium acetate – instead.

At the concentrations the streets department is now using, CMAK will cost Aspen about $253,000 this winter, according to Jerry Nye, acting streets superintendent. In addition, he expects to use $80,000 worth of sodium acetate mixed with gravel, he said.

City crews de-ice 12.5 miles of roadway, including the bus routes and Highway 82 in town.

On Monday, the council pondered a variety of options, from using mag chloride just on Main Street to spreading a lot more plain gravel to buying cleaner mag chloride.

The mag chloride used in Colorado is mined in Utah’s Great Salt Lake basin. It contains heavy metals and at least one radioactive compound, according to Lee Cassin, the city’s environmental health director. Mag chloride from another source might be cleaner, she said.

It was mag chloride’s potential health and environmental effects that prompted Aspen’s ban on use of the de-icer in the first place, though conclusive evidence of mag chloride’s dangers is difficult to come by.

“There’s enough cadmium, arsenic and other things in our air to increase the risk of cancer,” Cassin said. “What we don’t know is if they’re from mag chloride.”

The results of a new study on the pros and cons of mag chloride use, being conducted by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns and the Colorado Department of Transportation, is expected in April, Cassin said.

In the meantime, Aspen must balance the risks posed by icy streets with the possible effects of mag chloride use.

“I’m not saying our roads need to be bone dry, but they need to be safe,” said Councilman Tony Hershey. “Do you want to have accidents now or maybe someone with cancer in 50 years? That’s a decision we have to make.”

Thus far, Aspen hasn’t been able to achieve anything close to bone-dry streets following snowstorms. Early CMAK mixtures, supposedly good to melt ice at 5 and then 15 degrees below zero, were a bust, Nye conceded.

“It was kinda like going out and spraying water,” he said.

Nye’s latest batch of CMAK is supposed to be good to 37 degrees below zero. A representative of the manufacturer is expected in town this week to advise the streets department on effective use of CMAK.

More manpower, though, isn’t necessarily the answer, Nye said. Day and night, vehicles pack the snow as soon as it falls. It’s not like the old days, when the streets were virtually free of cars during the night, he said.

“We don’t believe it’s possible to plow fast enough to keep up with the traffic,” he said.

“This winter, my guys have put in more hours de-icing and sanding and putting in overtime than I can ever remember us doing – and it doesn’t look like it,” he said.

Heavier use of gravel – a course of action some council members have advocated – has its drawbacks, Nye added. CMAK hasn’t melted the ice well enough to release the gravel so it can be swept up later, according to Nye. And heavy use of gravel increases the particulate pollution in Aspen’s air when the streets do dry, he said.

“I don’t know. This is a tough one,” Councilman Tom McCabe finally said. “I think we’re going to have spend some more time on this one.”

“Maybe people should just slow down,” suggested Councilman Jim Markalunas.

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