KENNEWICK -- Kennewick officials aren't waiting to be caught by a repeat of last year's white Thanksgiving surprise.
The city council has authorized street crews to throw salt at the upcoming snow and ice season -- at least 500 tons of it.
The switch from liquid deicer and sand to salt is in response to criticism the city received after a late November storm last year, said Gary Deardorff, the city's operations manager for streets.
Hundreds of phone calls to city hall and council members about how the storm caught city crews off guard prompted the council to "take a hard look" at using salt, Deardorff said.
Applications of sand and deicer didn't solve the problem last year and didn't appease critics who wondered why Richland's streets were clear and Kennewick's weren't.
The answer was salt, which Richland has been using in lieu of sand for the past four years, said Steve Stairs, Richland's transportation engineer.
That persuaded Kennewick's switch to salt.
Deardorff admits salt is more destructive, both to vegetation and vehicles, but it is cheaper by half and more effective.
Salt costs $84 a ton, while deicer is about $150 a ton, he said.
Deicer works well only when put down before the snow falls, so it can prevent ice from forming. But salt can be laid down on top of packed snow and ice, dissolving the frozen mass into water, Deardorff explained.
In addition to having salt as the primary weapon against snow and ice, Kennewick's street crews will be treating more miles of streets this winter.
Deardorff said salt will be spread on Clearwater Boulevard and Columbia Center Boulevard, and the full length of 10th Avenue from Columbia Center Boulevard to Highway 397. It also will be applied the length of Canal Drive and on portions of Olympia, Washington, Ely and Union streets and Fourth Avenue.
Motorists can expect to find salted pavement on steep portions of Garfield Street, 19th Avenue and in neighborhoods of Panoramic Heights and Canyon Lakes, Deardorff said.
Each mile of roadway will receive about 200 pounds of salt per storm. Deardorff said salt is like a time-release chemical, which he expects will prove its worth throughout the winter.
Kennewick will continue to use sand, with salt applied over the top if more snow and ice accumulate, he said.
The city council also agreed to spend $125,000 to build a salt storage shed at the Dan Frost Municipal Services Building on Chemical Drive.
That facility will be 80 by 40 feet, and should be ready by the time the first shipments of salt arrive in mid-November, Deardorff said.
The city also is purchasing a 14-yard salt truck, armed with plow, to help beat back the worst of winter.
Deardorff said city crews have to put down deicer one to two days ahead of a storm, while an advantage of salt is that it can go down at anytime and still do the job, and it reduces the need for sanding roads.
Sand on pavement creates other problems: necessary cleanup to keep streets safe, to eliminate potential windblown dust, and prevent the hazard of sand being caught in the municipal storm water collection systems.
Deardorff said it costs Kennewick about $120,000 a year to apply sand and then clean it up again each year.
Richland's traffic engineer, Stairs, said his city's arsenal to beat snow and ice consists of liquid deicer and plain old rock salt.
"We've done it the last four to five years," he said.
Sanding isn't done because it creates problems with the city's storm water collection system.
West Richland is on a no-salt regimen for snow and ice removal.
"We use liquid deicer, and plow and sand," said Roscoe C. Slade III, the city's public works director.
Jess Greenough, operations manager for Pasco, said his city, too, avoids pure salt, preferring deicer because it is effective at lower temperatures. Salt tends to lose its power when the thermometer is below 25 degrees, he noted.
Franklin and Benton counties' road crews use liquid deicer and a concoction of naturally occurring salts called Ice Slicer.
"We have different tools for different things," said Tim Fife, director of public works in Franklin County, but rock salt is not one of them.
Malcom Bowie, Benton County engineer, said that this winter crews will apply the standard sand and natural salts mix with a bit of liquid deicer added in to wet the sand and make it more effective.
"We will do some straight salt this year too, for the first time," he said.