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City of Aspen to test run a chemical deicer this winter

A snowplow machine on interstate 70.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily

After almost 20 years of using sand to manage snow and roads, the city of Aspen will try using a chemical deicer this winter in high-accident areas downtown.

A yet-to-be chosen product will be tested on Main Street, and Durant Street from Rubey Park transit center to South Aspen Street.

Monitoring certain points in the river also will be done to determine if there is any change in water quality as a result from chemical runoff.

Aspen City Council during a work session Monday agreed to let April Long, the city’s clean river program manager, and Jerry Nye, superintendent of streets, choose one of several options presented to elected officials.

Long told council that using sand is problematic for river quality because the 3/8-inch rock chips are ground down to a finer particle by cars, and is more easily carried in snowmelt into the city’s storm water system and then discharged into the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries.

Sediment is the primary pollutant of concern for the city’s clean river program because it can degrade water quality, and that’s why Nye and the streets team attempt to reduce the amount of “road sand” that reaches the river.

Nye said of the 477 tons of sand that’s put down each winter, half of that is later removed through the snow removal process and winter street sweeping.

The city switched to aggressive snow plowing and the use of sand in 2002, after council decided to do away with liquid magnesium chloride due to concerns for the environment and water quality.

Nye said the streets department was only using 180 tons of sand when it was allowed to use what’s referred to as “mag chloride.”

But just using sand not only created more sediment, but also increased traffic accidents and slip-and-falls because of icy streets.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority operates between 700 and 800 bus trips a day during the winter season in and out of Aspen.

Icy streets greatly hamper their ability to operate safely and maintain a schedule, according to Nye.

Buses have had to cease operations entirely due to street conditions that are considered unsafe for transit operations in past winters, Nye said.

The area in front of Rubey Park that will see a new treatment accommodates all of the valley and Bus Rapid Transit buses, as well as local city and skier shuttles.

The steep slope and crown of Durant Street, combined with icy conditions impacts skiers, commuters, workers and visitors using the transit system, according to Nye.

“Insurance on transit buses is expensive,” he wrote in a memo to council. “The deductible on a $550,000 diesel bus is $100,000. We are now introducing electric buses into the fleet at a cost of $1 million per bus. It is important to try to protect these more expensive assets with a limited deicing program.”

He told council Monday that one way to determine if the deicer works this upcoming winter is to see how many slip-and-fall claims get filed to the city’s insurance carrier.

Long told council that while she and the clean river team monitor the Roaring Fork closely in the summer, that’s not the case in the winter.

While water quality monitoring has been conducted by several reporting agencies for many years, there has not been monitoring specific to analyzing the amount of sand or salt in snowmelt runoff from city outfalls in the winter, Long added in her memo to council.

She and her team have researched various deicing agents and analyzed previously taken water samples but they do have enough information to draw a “conclusive picture of what the effects of deicers are or might be on rivers in this area.”

That’s why they will do testing and conduct a study around those results and present a management plan to council next summer.

Long presented to council Monday several deicer agents, with pros and cons, including their costs.

The one favored the most by council is the “Ice Slicer,” which is used by Pitkin County and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

It contains complex chlorides, with trace minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.

City staff describes it as working faster and longer than others, and it can be applied at a lower cost than competing agents.

Mayor Torre said he would have preferred an organic option but that doesn’t appear to be feasible.

“I’ve always been proud of the city of Aspen. … I’ve always been concerned about water quality, about runoff, about what we were putting into our rivers,” he said. “Chemical solutions are low and last on our list but of course we prioritize health and safety, and these are hard trade-offs and these are hard choices.”

Long agreed, and said her team will closely monitor the test spots along the river to see what effects there are.

“I appreciate where you are coming from,” she said. “I just want to assure you that is why you have a clean river program and a staff dedicated to ensuring that all of the decisions that we have to make as an urban area are as least impactful to the river as we can be.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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