Mild winter saves money but only for some counties

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Capital News Service
LANSING – If this mild winter continues into April, the Lenawee County Road Commission will definitely be a winner, but the situation isn’t as rosy in St. Joseph County.
Lenawee County has spent only about $220,000 of its $900,000 winter maintenance budget since the beginning of 2012, according to Jason Schnaidt, its operations manager.
“We are not buying salt, which is a big saving. Fuel usage has decreased because of less use of the big trucks.”
However, staff is about the same as last winter and, employees keep busy doing such things as filling pothole and clearing brush, he said.
“Although we saved some money so far, we hold back money just in case for the rest of the winter. We try not to transfer any additional snow money for anything else yet,” Schnaidt said.
The situation in St. Joseph County, however, is less of a blessing to the road commission, an official said.
“In general, we are not seeing a significant savings in maintenance costs due to the mild winter,” said Christopher Bolt, director of engineering at the St. Joseph County Road Commission.
He said the temperatures hovering in the high 20s and low-to-mid 30s creates frequent precipitation and melting, which leads to icy conditions. Colder weather would preserve the snow until a late winter thaw begins.
“Our operations supervisors report that our salt and sand use is roughly on par with past winters,” Bolt said.
The mild winter hasn’t meant more leisure time for its personnel. To the contrary, they are working overtime.
“Our crews have been out on weekend shifts handling snow and ice events, just as they have in years past,” he said.
In fact, the mild winter creates more work because gravel roads and the shoulders of paved roads are not frozen, and precipitation and constant melting subject them to heavier- than-normal damage from trucks, he said.
Bolt also said some paved roads are experiencing pavement damage and deterioration because the road base is wetter than normal and isn’t frozen solid as it would be in a normal winter.
That leads to more potholes and accelerates the need for maintenance sooner, he said.
Meanwhile, the warmer winter doesn’t guarantee fewer car accidents.
According to Lenawee County Sheriff Jack Welsh, the number of local accidents was higher in January 2012 than in 2011.
“Even though we have not had a lot of snow this year, we have had a lot of mornings with black ice or just enough snow to make things icy and slippery. Sometimes we have more accidents under those conditions than when we have a few inches of snow,” Welsh said.
Crash data for this winter from the Office of Highway Safety Planning is incomplete.
However, cash registers at some car washes are ringing more.
“Our business has been going up this winter because the weather is warmer and more people would like to go outside and keep their cars clean,” said Darren Shiels, manager of the Magic Fountain Auto Wash in Adrian.
“What we have seen is that with warmer weather, we have been saving money by not spending as much on fuel costs,” Shiels said. “Usually we have to heat the floors.”
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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