Icy roads in Hyde Park and the lack of road salt to treat them led to a frosty exchange between the highway superintendent and the town supervisor at the Feb. 24 town board meeting.
Superintendent of Highways Walt Doyle was at the meeting to answer questions about how a salt shortage was handled the week before, when the town’s salt supply was depleted on Feb. 19.
He and Town Supervisor Aileen Rohr had given different accounts to the Observer of the salt situation the day after the town ran out on Wed., Feb.19. Doyle said an order of 500 tons was expected any day but did not arrive until two days later, on Fri., Feb. 21. Rohr said she understood that 100 tons of that order had been received from the supplier by Thurs., Feb. 20 and another 100 tons had been made available by the county also by Thursday afternoon.
Of particular concern to the town board were the icy conditions on the morning of Feb. 21, which have been blamed for a school bus accident in which one student was reportedly injured.
Doyle defended his department at the meeting, and said, “Until eight o’clock that morning, we were out of salt.”
Rohr interrupted to say she thought the department had 100 tons as of Feb 20, which Doyle then denied.
Rohr then said Doyle had told her he had 100 tons, which Doyle denied, again saying “I don’t think we did…unless I said something wrong.”
Later in the meeting, Rohr brought the discrepancy up again.
“I just do need to correct one thing, that there was salt left from Thursday night,” she said.
Doyle replied, “Okay, there may have been.”
In his update to the board, Doyle said that Hyde Park has ordered 4,900 tons of salt so far this year, including an 800-ton order placed on February 24.
However Doyle told the board that the town may not receive that final order in full because it is over the state-imposed maximum of 3,000 tons per year.
Once the town reaches 150 percent, or 4,500 tons, of its maximum, Doyle said, “that is all they are required to give us.”
As of March 7, Doyle told the Observer, the town had 1,300 tons on hand. He estimated the highway department uses 140-160 tons of salt each time all the roads in town are treated.
In emergency cases, towns can borrow salt from the county’s emergency services department –which Hyde Park did when Rohr arranged for the 100 tons during the February shortage.
But Doyle told the board he was also concerned about borrowing county salt, which he noted is untreated and costs about $71 per ton compared to the salt the town usually purchases at $60 per ton.
“So we’re losing $11 a ton,” he said.
“Well, when there’s a shortage we need to get the salt,” Ward 3 Councilperson Hannah Behrens said.
Rohr agreed, saying, “It became a matter of public safety,” referring to the shortage between Feb. 20 and 21.
Rohr also said she had read about mixing sand with the salt to save money, which she understood the state had started to do. But Doyle said the town used to mix the two materials but they then had to sweep the streets afterward, an additional cost that could be as much as $26,000.
Rohr suggested that if the town runs out of salt again, the option of using sand should still be investigated.
After Doyle’s report, Christina McGrath, the mother of two Hyde Park School District students, spoke to the board about a school bus accident on Feb. 21.
According to George Treadwell, the school district’s head of transportation, a car spun out on ice on Lawrence Road and hit a snow bank and at that point, a school bus came around the corner, tried to brake but hit the car.
McGrath said her son, a special needs student, sustained a minor back injury in the accident. McGrath also said there was a second accident that same day involving an FDR High School bus, which Treadwell confirmed but added there was no damage done in that incident.
“I wouldn’t say it was an accident,” he said, but the bus “slid into the snow bank just like all of the other cars did.”