Minneapolis/ Transportation & Infrastructure
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Published on April 13, 2024
Wright County Slashes De-icing Costs with Innovative Salt Brine Method, Prioritizes Environment and SavingsSource: Unsplash / Josh Hild

Winter roads in Wright County are about to see a major change in how they're de-iced, thanks to a savvy move by the local Highway Department. Following a harsh winter season, the department has developed a cost-effective method to make their salt brine, slashing costs dramatically from $1.50 to as little as 15 cents per gallon. This new system, aimed to efficiently reduce reliance on expensive de-icing liquids, represents a significant shift in the county's winter maintenance strategy.

Nate Helgeson, the Wright County Highway Maintenance Superintendent, revealed in a statement obtained by Wright County's official website, that they have been preparing their brine for about 25 years. The key to effective brine is a 23.3 percent salinity level, which their new centralized brine facility can now achieve with high-tech equipment. Previously, with less accurate methods, the department could not consistently hit the desired salinity. "We can make our own salt brine for 15 cents a gallon plus the cost of water," Helgeson stated, emphasizing the potential savings compared to the calcium chloride product that costs ten times as much.

The financial impact is no trivial matter. During the winter of 2022-23, more than 121,000 gallons of the premium de-icer were used, racking up a bill of $180,000. Contrast this with the current winter's drastically reduced figure of just 7,436 gallons of de-icer used at a cost slightly over $37,000. Wright County expected to save between $75,000 to $100,000 a winter moving forward. The centralized facility not only manufactures the brine but also serves as a depot to stockpile it for upcoming inclement weather.

But it's not just about the green in their wallets. Helgeson reiterated the environmental consciousness behind their methods. "The science behind it is that when our trucks go out, they're as environmentally-friendly as we can," he told Wright County's official website. The idea is to minimize salt damage to the environment by using a brine solution that starts the melting process upon contact with road surfaces. Helgeson further explained that no ice-melting product is 100 percent eco-friendly, but their strategy aims to responsibly balance road safety with environmental impact. "The fact we’re able to try to be as environmentally responsible as we can while saving money for the taxpayers of Wright County in the process is something we take a lot of pride in," affirmed Helgeson.

Wright County is setting an example for other municipalities grappling with the perennial challenges of winter road maintenance. By taking the initiative to innovate and adapt, they've found a way to effectively maintain safety during the winter months while also being fiscally and ecologically responsible.