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Road crews brace for next blast

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The city of Greenfield's salt-storage area has enough salt for now. Officials hope the supply holds out for the rest of the season.(Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
The city of Greenfield's salt-storage area has enough salt for now. Officials hope the supply holds out for the rest of the season.(Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — They have enough salt on hand to combat slick streets this week, but local road crews are hoping for some kind of break in the weather before they run dangerously low on supplies.

The National Weather Service is predicting 5 to 8 inches of snow for Hancock County by Wednesday morning. Most of that will come tonight. While street departments have been running ragged over the past month, they say they’re prepared for another round but hope snowfall will taper off soon.

Jim Hahn, Greenfield street superintendent, said he has enough salt to last another month, “unless we get multiple snowstorms back to back to back.”

Hahn, who warned the city council two weeks ago about his overtime budget running low and his cutback in salt usage, said it’s about time for a break in the weather before they run out of material.

While the first half of today should be dry, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Ryan said clouds will roll in with snow arriving in the mid- to late afternoon. Conditions will deteriorate quickly in the evening and overnight hours.

“There may be a brief bit of mixing with sleet, but snow should be the predominant precipitation type,” Ryan said.

The snow will likely be wet at first, but it could turn into a fine, powdery substance by early Wednesday morning. As gusts reach about 20 mph, there could be drifting Wednesday, Ryan said. Additional snow accumulation Wednesday is expected to be an inch or less.

There’s enough salt on hand for the state highways that run through Hancock County, said Harry Maginity, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“We’ve got salt; we’re OK,” he said. “We’re not OK if it just goes on and on forever. The problem is not availability of salt; the problem is distribution of salt and getting it here.”

City and town street departments are cutting back on the salt they use to conserve. Tonya Galbraith, McCordsville town manager, said they have salt on hand but they’re using it sparingly.

For a few weeks now, the Greenfield street department has been focusing only on main streets and intersections, leaving many residential streets covered in hard-packed snow and ice. Hahn said the public seems to be understanding of the cutback, which was needed to conserve salt.

As local street employees are enjoying the overtime pay keeping up with weather’s high demands, they’re also being encouraged to use compensation time and stay at home when they’re not needed.

“It just seems like (snow comes) every four days,” Hahn said. “My guys have not been off one single weekend since the beginning of the year. And it seems like it’s going to keep following suit.”

The Greenfield and Hancock County street crews spread more than 1,100 tons of salt throughout the month of January. But even in the first two days of February, more salt was spread on local roads. Gary Pool, Hancock County highway engineer, said Saturday’s rainfall and Sunday’s cold meant for slippery roads, which employees salted Sunday evening.

“It was much worse north in the county than it was south,” Pool said. “It was like two different counties – the north needed a lot of help.”

Pool said the department was running low on salt and calcium chloride – a substance used to mix with salt – but he’s expecting a 500-ton salt delivery today, just in the nick of time for the new round of snow.

Pool is planning on having crews out for the next 24 hours to keep up, even though his overtime budget has become “a disaster” with more than half of the department’s overtime money gone just in the first month of the year.

And while Pool says he’d much rather spend the county’s money on asphalt for road-paving projects in the warmer months, the dollars spent now on overtime, salt and truck repairs could affect what the county department can do later in the year. Just how much of an impact that will be is up in the air.

“Everything we spend now in the winter is something that will take away from what we can do in the summer,” he said.

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