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Orange talks sanding, salting roads, new DPW

ORANGE — The Highway Department is in the midst of reorganization as part of a new public works department — just as they are struggling with how to best manage snow and ice during one of the coldest winters in recent years.

Orange resident Don Piragis questioned selectmen at a recent meeting whether sand and salt could be applied to roads more efficiently, saving town resources.

He said that earlier this week, highway personnel “put out a lot of sand and salt, and I don’t think there was half an inch of snow.”

He added highway personnel should adjust the auger on their trucks so that they do not apply too much on smaller roads. While the trucks put down just the right amount on larger roads, if the trucks aren’t adjusted, excess sand will be applied when they turn onto side roads and shift into lower gears.

He said the additional sand is not only a waste of money but makes a mess that hasn’t always been swept up in the spring if the highway budget is tight, as it has been for a while. “I’m too old to be sweeping up sand,” he said.

Town Administrator Diana Schindler noted in earlier board meetings she has heard from numerous residents about problems with the application of sand and salt on roadways.

Interim Public Works Superintendent Josh Knechtel said he and other highway employees attended a workshop earlier this year on new and efficient practices for removing snow and ice, including calibration of sanding trucks so the proper amount is applied.

Knechtel said two of the departments four sanding trucks were calibrated this fall. When tested, those trucks were applying the recommended amounts of product.

But with limited staffing, the highway crew was unable to calibrate the entire fleet and had to focus on repairs and maintenance of aging equipment. He said only one sander was operational earlier last week.

Knechtel has been overseeing the newly formed Department of Public Works for the past few weeks. “At this point, I’m trying to keep everything working, observing current practices and only making small changes.” He said it will take several months for him to assess how to make the best use of existing resources within the department, “but we’ll get it dialed in.”

In the year ahead, he and his staff will research and try out a variety of techniques presented at the workshop to determine what will work best on Orange roads. Some of the questions public works staff will weigh over the coming years:

What is the correct mix of sand and salt to apply? Salt run-off can hurt wetlands and Knechtel said that sand can also be problematic as it piles up in waterways and drain pipes.

Is it better to use untreated rock salt or a lesser amount of salt treated with calcium? Treated salt can help reduce the amount of sand used as it can melt ice and snow at lower temperatures, but Knechtel said he will need to research the product’s impact on wetlands, aquifers, streams and rivers.

Should newer organic products (made from distillery byproducts or molasses) be applied and at what rates? These newer products stick well to roads and create more friction, reducing hazard of icy roadways, but he will need to research the impact they may have on the local environment.

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