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Slick streets baffle Aspen

Janet Urquhart

Don’t tell Jerry Nye that Aspen’s streets are icy. He already knows that.

The city’s acting superintendent of streets was up all night again Wednesday working on the problem. And when he’s in his office, the phone rings off the hook with complaints.

“I’m getting a lot of calls from people. They’re complaining that we’re not de-icing the streets, and we really are,” he said.

Nye found himself in the unenviable position of stepping in to temporarily fill the post vacated by former streets superintendent Jack Reid just in time to handle Aspen’s snowiest start to winter in three years. To battle the snow and ice, his crews are experimenting with a combination of chemical alternatives to the highly effective de-icer magnesium chloride. So far, he concedes, they have not found the magic formula.

“We haven’t found the one that’s thawing the ice for us,” he said. “We’re trying to find out what will work.”

The city quit using mag chloride in February 1998, citing concerns about the effect of chloride in the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries and the potential health effects associated with the use of mag chloride.

Before his departure, Reid argued in September for resuming use of mag chloride in the city, calling the results of health studies on the substance inconclusive. The City Council resisted.

Instead, the city has allocated $80,000 for the purchase of CMAK, which is calcium magnesium acetate in pellet form, and CF7, or potassium acetate. A year’s worth of mag chloride would have cost about $4,275, according to Reid.

The city also bought a new $93,000 street sweeper, which Reid recommended, predicting greater use of sand in conjunction with the less effective de-icer.

“As soon as we get some clear streets, we’ll be using our new sweeper,” Nye said.

Until then, street crews are continuing their search for the right de-icing concoction. The CMAK is mixed with water, then CF7 is added. That’s the ingredient that is supposed to generate heat and keep ice from forming, Nye said. The streets department keeps upping the concentration of CF7, which is the expensive stuff, he said.

“The first mixture we put down, I think we added to the problem. It was supposed to be good to five below zero. It wasn’t five below, but it didn’t work.”

The batch that crews mixed yesterday morning is supposed to keep ice from forming at 37 degrees below zero, according to Nye.

“If, for some reason, we can’t find a mixture that will work, the City Council will have to decide what to try next,” he said.

The city does have some options, as Nye hasn’t spent the entire $80,000 allocated for the de-icing experiment. “We’re going to make sure it works before we spend all that money,” he said.

Councilman Tony Hershey, for one, is already willing to reconsider the city’s de-icer strategy. He wants the council to rethink its position on mag chloride. “It works the best and it’s the cheapest,” he said.

“It’s very clear where the mag chloride ends and our streets begin,” Hershey added. “I really think we need to re-address this issue.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation applies mag chloride on Highway 82. Vehicles drag the residue into town, creating clear pavement to about the Hickory House on the western end of Main Street. From there into town, the streets are caked with ice and snow.

It’s getting so it’s difficult to cross the streets on foot, they’re so slippery, Hershey noted.

Councilman Jim Markalunas took an opportunity at Monday’s City Council meeting to prop a boot up on the council table and recommend residents try studded footwear.

Markalunas puts tapping screws, or sheet-metal screws, into the rubber soles of his boots for traction. “They work great on the ice,” he said.


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