Kennewick is going back to basics to fight icy and snowy roads with good old-fashioned salt.
Just about a year ago, the city found itself unprepared for a Thanksgiving week snowstorm. Kennewick's streets remained treacherous while Richland, which used salt, had roads that were easy to navigate, even for those unaccustomed to winter driving.
So salt is making a comeback in Kennewick. But it has some disadvantages, most notably salt can cause damage to the undercarriage of your car and will exacerbate the spread of rust in already rusty metal.
But it works like a charm on snow and ice.
In past years, Kennewick used a combination of liquid deicer and sand to combat winter weather. The problem with deicer is that it must be applied a day or two in advance of the storm to be effective.
And while sand can help with traction, it also has its drawbacks. Residual sand creates a hazard on the road when the snow disappears, creates dust and clogs storm drains.
Salt, on the other hand, can be used on packed snow and ice to melt the mess into water. Of course, the salt goes with it, causing some to be concerned about potential harm to our rivers, fish and roadways.
Over in fish-friendly Seattle, city officials had relied on deicer and snow plows. Then the snowstorm of 2008 hit, virtually shutting the city down because the snow removal plan was woefully inadequate.
Outraged citizens hammered the city over its response to the snowy and icy roads. The next year, the city added salt and salt brine to its winter arsenal. Scientists there say the infrequency of snowstorms and the abundance of rain in winter months helps minimize the negative effects of salt.
Richland has been using salt instead of sand for four years, and its citizens seem happy with the condition of their winter roads.
Hundreds of unhappy callers contacted Kennewick officials last winter, prompting the city to make the decision to buy 500 tons of salt in preparation for the coming winter. Salt is also about half the cost of deicer and works better on winter roads.
More miles of road will be treated in Kennewick as well. When it's needed, salt will be used on ClearwaterAvenue and Columbia Center Boulevard, all of 10th Avenue from Columbia Center to Highway 397, Canal Drive in its entirety and portions of Olympia, Washington, Ely and Union streets and Fourth Avenue.
The steep spots around town also will be salted and the city will continue to use sand as well.
Even though salt is about half the cost of deicer, the new plan comes with some serious costs. A $125,000 storage area is being built for the salt near the Dan Frost Municipal Services Building. And the city bought a 14-yard salt truck and plow. But those are one-time expenses for facilities and equipment that will be used for years to come.
Salt has its naysayers, and we're not ready to give its use an unqualified endorsement.
Gary Deardorff, the city's operations manager for streets, admits salt can be destructive to vehicles, but so can slipping into a ditch.
It's good to see Kennewick responding to the concerns of its citizenry. But we're reserving judgment on the switch to salt until we see the results.
We understand that no matter how well-prepared a city road department is, not every battle can be won against Mother Nature.
But Kennewick clearly needs to do better. Maybe this is the way.