News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 21, 2014
Stonington selectmen discuss cost and use of road salt

by Rich Hewitt

The cost of keeping the town’s roads clear during the winter was again a topic of discussion among selectmen at their August 18 meeting.

The board accepted a bid from Skip Eaton for winter salt used on the roads. Eaton’s bid of $16 per cubic yard was the lower of the two bids the town received, but Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris noted that it was up from $14.49 per cubic yard last year.

The town needs to purchase about 2,700 cubic yards in order to replenish the salt pile depleted during the long, harsh winter last year. The board is asking voters to transfer funds from surplus to cover the cost of the salt and the sand that’s used on the roads. This is the first time in a number of years that the town has had to tap the surplus for salt, Billings-Pezaris said. The high cost of road salt reopened the discussion regarding ways to reduce the cost of dealing with winter roads. Selectman Ben Barrows had raised the idea of using less salt on the road at an earlier meeting. He had argued that it was more work for town crews, it was bad for the environment and it cost taxpayers a lot of money.

This week, Chairman Donna Brewer raised the issue, noting that several people had asked her why the town has to spend so much money on salt and sand.

“It isn’t good to keep putting salt on the roads,” she said. “People have to learn to slow down in the winter.”

Barrows suggested that if the board decides to change the way it uses salt and sand, the selectmen should communicate with residents ahead of time.

Betts suggested, half jokingly, that the town could simply put up a sign that read: “Snowy Road, Slow Down.”

“People still expect to go 40 or 50 miles per hour,” Billings-Pezaris said. “You’re supposed to drive for the conditions of the road. They’re going to have to decide: do they want high taxes or will they go 30 instead of 50?”

She added that a lot of people don’t have the proper tires on their vehicles. Barrows suggested that the town could establish a program that would subsidize the purchase of new snow tires for residents who can’t afford it. Board members have discussed some ways to reduce salt use, such as targeting certain test areas for less salt. They made no decisions, however, and opted to discuss the matter in more detail with Cobb.