Little Falls looking into using brine for winter road care

22 May 2023 1:34 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

Little Falls looking into using brine for winter road care | News |

Little Falls is hoping to experiment a bit with the way it treats roads, next winter.

Monday, City Engineer Greg Kimman told the Little Falls City Council that he had been looking into using brine on some city streets, rather than the salt and sand mixture that has been used in the past. Though the matter was a discussion only item and there was no formal vote, the Council was receptive to the idea.

Kimman said the plan, as of now, would be to apply brine to the roughly 20 miles of State Aid streets within the city. That would include First Street, Fifth Avenue Southeast, 11th Street Northeast, 13th Street, Riverwood Drive, 10th Street Southwest and Lindbergh Drive Northwest.

The brine system is, essentially, salt that’s in liquid form. It is applied prior to a snow event to help it melt as it falls.

“I’d like to try to get a little bit ahead on the snow events just to get ahead of them and make sure we don’t get the snowpack that we’ve had in the past couple of years on some of those roads, just to try to get them a little bit closer to bare pavement,” Kimman said.

As a trial, the city would purchase a brine tank for one of its single-axle trucks. Kimman received a quote of $7,067 from Towmaster Truck Equipment of Litchfield to outfit the truck.

As Morrison County is preparing to build a new county shop in Little Falls, it is possible the facility will give it the capability to make brine in-house. Kimman said he had reached out to the county about using some of its brine, next winter.

If that partnership works out, Kimman said the city, at the end of the winter, would replenish the county’s salt supply with however much was needed for the brine it used. He said it is possible a similar deal could be reached with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), but he wanted to explore working with the county first.

“What we would do is, we would call up the county and say, ‘We would like to get a load of brine,’” Kimman said. “We would go over there, get the brine and then at the end of the year — let’s just say we use 500 gallons of brine. They’d calculate it out and say, ‘OK, 500 gallons equates to 100 pounds of salt.’ At that point, we’d bring 100 pounds of salt over to them, dump it off and they would put it in their salt shed.”

He noted later those numbers were used only as an example, and he didn’t know exactly what the ratio of brine to salt would be.

Council President Jerry Knafla asked what the cost for the brine would be if it were purchased on its own. Kimman said the brine itself is not what is purchased, but rather the equipment to make it.

To make the brine, he said those who have the equipment purchase road salt and mix it with water to get a solution. That is what is loaded into the tanks. It is then spread on the road, it dries as a solution and, when the snow falls, it melts as it comes in contact with the brine.

“The nice thing about using a liquid form as opposed to the granular form, and we’ve all seen it, when you sprinkle it on the road, it bounces all over the place,” Kimman said. “With brine, you put it on the road and that’s where it’s going to stay until it melts and it runs off.”

Though the water eventually evaporates, he said the brine salt from the solution will remain on the roadway. That keeps it pre-treated ahead of a potential snowfall that comes even a week later.

Council Member Dave Glaze asked if the brine does any damage to the roads or lawns with which it might come into contact. Kimman said it would damage a lawn, just as any concentration of salt would — even in the traditional, granular form.

He added that the brine wouldn’t do any more damage than “straight salt.” He reiterated, however, the salt in its granular form bounces when it hits the pavement, whereas the brine stays in its intended location for longer.

“Not to mention, any damage is almost all going to be on the right of way,” added Council Member Leif Hanson.

In terms of damage to the road, Kimman said, again, the brine would not be any more harmful than regular salt. Salt can oxidize the top of the pavement in either form.

Glaze asked if the brine was going to cost more than the salt and sand mix the city uses currently. Kimman estimated it might be a “little bit more,” mainly due to the purchase of the saddle tanks for the truck. Using the salt alone for the brine instead of the mix would also be a slight increase in cost.

“But then you won’t be using any sand?” Glaze asked.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Kimman said. “We’ll be reducing the amount of sand that we use, but we’ll still be using some sand.”

That is due to the fact, in the first year at least, only the State Aid roads will be treated with the brine.

Knafla said this past winter he received several complaints about the roads “and how terrible they were.” Residents asked him why they weren’t getting plowed, or why there was so much snow buildup.

“I think trying something like this on certain, select roads that are the most highly traveled roads throughout the city, trying it to see if it does reduce the amount of buildup that we have there and eliminate some of those complaints (is a good idea),” Knafla said.

Glaze agreed.

Council Member David Meyer said he received complaints about the amount of sand that was on the streets in the spring. He thought trying brine to minimize that was a good plan.

Hanson said one of the streets he travels on most is Fifth Avenue Southeast, which would be one of the roads treated with brine under the current plan.

“If something like this can improve that intersection at Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street, which is just brutal, I’m for trying something different,” Hanson said.

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