Mayor Bashes City’s Use of Scoria
Fourth Street looking towards 4-J Road, which has not yet been hit by city street sweepers.
Mayor Louise Carter-King is pushing the Gillette City Council to move away from using scoria, a salt and red rock combination, on city roadways during winter storms.
On average, the city dumps between 8 and 10 tons of scoria per storm during the winter season. This means with the 25 storms seen this past winter, the city dumped between 200 and 250 tons of scoria throughout Gillette.
“That’s a lot of dirt that we put on our town,” Carter-King said to the council during their pre-meeting April 16.
Dumping so much scoria on the roadways is causing problems for the City Public Works Division, Carter-King added, which oversees cleanup efforts every spring and, weather permitting, during the winter.
Sweeping up rock for months out of the year is hard on street sweepers, she told the council, causing damage and rendering some equipment in need of serious repairs. Currently, only three out of the city’s four street sweepers are operational.
“I’m not criticizing public works,” Carter-King said. “You can only do so much because our sweepers keep breaking.”
Scoria also finds its way into city drainage ditches, easements, and parks, stacking more cleanup costs on top of street sweeping.
Carter-King had another bone to pick with scoria as well. With city crews being unable to keep up with the amount of scoria dumped on city roadways every winter, the scoria piles up on the sides of roads.
This makes Gillette an eyesore to businesses thinking of setting up shop in Gillette, Carter-King explained.
“We have a beautiful town, and I think it’s time to stop dumping dirt on it,” she stated.
But moving away from scoria in favor of other deicing compounds brings with it other costs.
City Public Works Director Sawley Wilde said, in a separate interview, that the city does not pay for scoria, which it receives from the county for free. The only thing the city pays for is transportation and application costs.
Ice Slicer, on the other hand, costs 7 cents a pound, and the city would still be responsible for transportation and application costs, but it only requires minimal cleanup and is generally washed away by the rains, Wilde said.
Carter-King indicated that she would be in favor of paying more for transportation and application if it means less cleanup and less dirt on city roadways.
Councilman Bruce Brown, however, was unwilling to stand behind the mayor’s proposal without knowing the true cost of moving away from scoria.
“All I want is to make sure that we’re not wasting money,” he said.
“I disagree with the word ‘waste,’” Carter-King replied. “If our city doesn’t look like a dirt town, I think it’s a win. Maybe you can’t put a dollar amount to it, but there’s definitely a benefit to that.”
Brown would not be cowed, however, adding that all he’s seen in recent council meetings is “spend, spend, spend.” He would like to know what kind of revenues are coming in before he decides whether or not to support moving away from using scoria.
The Mayor advised that the city made do without scoria, in favor of Ice Slicer, for seven or eight years prior to January 2017, which was when the city elected to re-implement the use of scoria.
City Spokesperson Geno Palazzari said that scoria is only effective at melting ice down to certain temperatures. Subzero temperatures seen during the 2016/2017 winter significantly reduced Ice Slicer’s effectiveness, resulting in ultra-slick intersections and other road ways.
Carter-King had been an advocate for scoria then, though she was in favor of a 50/50 combination of Ice Slicer and Scoria.
“I think that experiment has gone too far,” she said. “I’m ready to go back to experimenting without scoria.”
Palazzari indicated, however, that the Mayor’s proposal most likely won’t happen, at least in terms of not using scoria all together.
Ice Slicer can’t be used on new roadways, like Camel Drive and the Gurley Overpass, or it voids the warranty, Palazzari said. For those roads, scoria is the only option.
But it is possible for the city to apply as little scoria as possible, and only where it is specifically needed, and switch to other deicing compounds elsewhere in the city, he continued.
“Nothing is set in stone right now,” Palazzari said.
Wilde requested Tuesday that the council allow him to gather research and other options over the next few weeks, to be brought before the council in May.