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In light of the recent inclement weather, the Selectman’s Office has been receiving calls with questions and comments about plowing and road treatments.  Selectman Khris Hall and I thought it might be a good time to write a column focusing on this topic, and have collaborated to provide the following summary.

New Fairfield Public Works is responsible for plowing the 67.72 miles of town roads when the weather is snowy or icy.  Connecticut DOT is responsible for Routes 37 and 39 and private contractors are responsible for private roads.  New Fairfield has eleven plow trucks for our roads plus a twelfth dedicated to town parking lots.  The trucks are driven by Public Works employees.  Each driver has his own route, which he knows well from experience.  A contracted snow shoveler keeps walk ways around town properties clear.

Russ Loudon, Superintendent of Public Works, monitors the weather closely and has the plow trucks loaded early with the sand-salt mixture New Fairfield uses when it looks like plowing will be required.  Trucks are usually sent out after a call from Police Department Dispatch reporting that roads are starting to get slippery.  It normally takes about four to five hours to clear a route.  The team is often required to put in a lot of overtime work to keep our roads safe.

The first time out, the trucks apply the sand mixture.  The trucks then go back to Public Works to reload, and then go out just to plow.  The team puts special focus on bus routes.  Mr. Loudon monitors the weather and reports on the roads from the police department, school bus operators, and town residents to decide what areas need special attention and whether re-application of the sand mixture is advisable.  When storms produce ice, as last week’s did, snow may be left in place until the weather changes.  Mr. Loudon points out that ice on top of snow is much less slippery than black ice.

Residents are required by ordinance to remove cars from town streets during a snow event to facilitate plowing.  Occasionally, a mail box may be damaged.  The Town website contains information on the ordinance and mailbox replacement policy (www.newfairfield.org -> Municipal Departments->Public Works).   Questions or comments about plowing may be addressed to Russ Loudon at 203-312-5628 during office hours (5:30-2:00 M-F) or 203-312-5632 after hours during a storm.

Next, is the question “Why does New Fairfield use a salt/sand mixture when neighboring towns and the State DOT use 100% salt?”  Public Works currently uses a mixture of 2 parts sand and one part salt, and plans to gradually increase the amount of salt in the mix as budget and environmental impact allow.  Salt costs the Town $64 per ton, and sand, $14 per ton.  Each truck load contains 8 to 10 tons of material, and each of our 12 trucks uses 2 to 3 loads per storm.    Assuming 9 tons per load and 3 loads per storm, each storm costs the Town approximately $10,000 in materials alone.  Increasing to a mix that is equal parts sand and salt would result in a cost of approximately $13,000 per storm, and 100% salt would cost the Town about $21,000 per storm.  In addition to increased costs, road salt has been shown to increase the salinity of both ground and surface water, posing a threat to both drinking water and wildlife. This is an issue that CT DEEP continues to study, and will issue guidelines in years to come.  In addition to the difference in treatment materials, motorists should note that New Fairfield is at higher elevation than Danbury and Patterson, NY.  Very often, this change in elevation can mean the difference between rain and snow.  Roads south of route 84 may be wet, and north of that point, snow covered.  Speaking of temperature, road salt is effective only when the surface temperature is above 17⁰ F.  Salt will also begin to melt the snow faster on well- travelled roads.  If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact Mr. Louden, as listed above or myself at 203-312-5600.

– Pat Del Monaco, First Selectman