Duluth considers beet juice for icy roads

The city of Duluth, Minn. plans to spend up to $873,000 on road salt this winter, but beet juice may also be used to improve the icy environment. Kelly Fleissner, the operations manager for the City of Duluth, said this expensive investment in salt will keep our roads safe this winter.

“Public safety is the primary reason why we are here,” said Fleissner. “We need to make sure the roads are safe for our customers to use.”

According to the Northland’s NewsCenter, Duluth will spend almost $100,000 more on road salt than they did last year. On October 11, 2011 the city council approved the purchase of 400 more tons of road salt this year, which means Duluth will buy more than 13,500 tons of salt.

“This means we can buy up to that amount,” said Fleissner. “It is similar to a purchase order, meaning that we are allowed to buy up to those quantities.”

Patrick Boyle is a city council member for the second council district who serves as the personal committee chairperson. He noticed that the price of road salt has increased over the past few years.

“Part of living in this beautiful town comes with the consequence of living on a ski slope,” said Boyle. “We need to use a lot more caution. This causes us to pay for the view we have from this city.”

Boyle said the past few winters have been warmer than usual. The city has experienced fewer blizzards and an abundance of ice storms. These ice storms cause the city to use a lot more of its resources, including salt. GPS systems are now installed in many of Duluth’s snowplows. The system allows the city to directly monitor the amount of salt that is being poured onto the pavement.

“The assumption is to save money,” said Boyle.

Even though the city strives to save money, one of its goals is to be environmentally friendly as well. Amanda Ranotwitz, a reporter from Kent, Ohio was featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and said that beet juice has a similar effect on ice that salt has. The juice is first extracted from sugar beets. When the juice is mixed with calcium chloride and soap rind, it melts snow and ice at colder temperatures. The solution is known to keep our environment and our vehicles cleaner.

“Beet extract is not necessarily a cheaper investment, but environmentally it is better,” said Boyle.

According to NPR, one gallon of beet juice costs $2.60 compared to $.04 for a gallon of rock salt. The combination reduces the amount of salt runoff into storm drains and streams since the sodium chloride helps the juice stick to the pavement.

“It’s economically feasible,” said Boyle. “We have to ‘keep up with the Jones’’ without flushing out storm waste into Lake Superior.”

The beet solution has been experimented on many sidewalks throughout the city of Duluth, but Fleissner believes that the city first need to focus on removing the snow as soon as it falls to the ground.

“While living on the banks of Lake Superior, we need to make sure we are doing everything right. The beet extract isn’t something we can just jump on.” said Boyle. “We need to look into the ramifications first.”

Fargo, N.D. and Kent, Ohio are two cities that have decided to use beet juice to keep their roads free of ice. Duluth can implement this environmentally clean solution too, but it will cost more money.

“We need to see what makes the biggest difference and at what kind of cost,” said Fleissner.

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