Andy Harris correspondent

KENT: Most Northeast Ohioans would prefer not to think about it, but despite warmer temperatures forecast for this week, winter is still lurking.

The Kent Public Service Department is following the same script as it has for years, according to Public Service Director Eugene Roberts, but the department is ahead of the curve this year thanks to the relative mildness of last winter.

"Itís the same thing we've done many times before, the same thing other communities go through prior to the cold season," Roberts explained. "All of the trucks have gone over and the plows have been checked."

Because of last winter's warmer than normal temperatures, the city's salt stockpiles were larger than usual, allowing for the minimum purchase of salt under the city's contract with the Ohio Department of Transportation. The contract stipulates a minimum purchase of 3,500 tons of salt, which is in the vicinity of the amount city crews use to keep roads safe in an average winter.

"We use between 3,500 tons and 4,000 tons in an average year, but we probably used around 1,500 tons last year, which left a good surplus," Roberts said.

Along with the city's salt dome on Plum Road, its fleet of 11 plow trucks are ready for the task of keeping 88 miles of roads within the city limits clear, along with a small section of road to the north of the city limits. Under a deal with ODOT, the city plows the additional road space because ODOT crews plow portions of State Route 43 and Route 261 that are within city limits. The ODOT does this because they travel the roads while passing through after plowing in other areas.

The deal saves the city a few miles of plowing in a snow event, Roberts explained, even though the sight of city plow trucks operating outside city limits is odd.

In a typical snow event, six workers are tasked with roadwork. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, two crews were out working on hills and bridges after the Kent Police Department reported roads in need of salt and plowing. In addition to traditional road salt, crews also use a pre-salt mixture in liquid form. The salt brine can be applied to roads prior to a snow event as long as no rainfall occurs after it is applied, according Roberts. The brine creates a first layer of protection when snow falls, and it is applied using the same trucks that distribute traditional rock salt. The only difference is that the tail apparatus that spreads the salt is removed and a tanker with a hose is installed in its place.

At the salt dome, workers mix the brine in a 2,000-gallon tank and at a cost of six cents per gallon, it is a cost-effective method of road maintenance during the winter. The brine is effective as long as the temperature remains above 12 degrees, which it did for most of last winter. If the temperature drops below 12 degrees, calcium chloride is added to the mixture and at approximately 50 cents per gallon, it is an option Roberts and his employees prefer to avoid unless it is absolutely necessary.

Each batch of brine takes four to eight hours to make, after which it is stored in the same tank until it is ready to use.

While most Kent residents would prefer the salt and brine go unused, a sufficient quantity of both are on hand and ready to be applied when the snowflakes begin flying with more frequency.