The Public Works Nerds

Innovating Winter Maintenance: Reducing Salt Use and Protecting the Environment with Connie Fortin

June 12, 2023 Marc Culver, PE and Mike Spack, PE Season 1 Episode 3
The Public Works Nerds
Innovating Winter Maintenance: Reducing Salt Use and Protecting the Environment with Connie Fortin
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What if you could reduce your reliance on salt and design better, more environmentally friendly winter maintenance strategies? Join us as we chat with Connie Fortin, the Low Salt Strategist at Bolton Mank, who shares her innovative approach to this challenge by collaborating with civil engineers, landscape architects, and planners.

Discover the advancements in winter maintenance techniques and the transition to liquid deicers, including the benefits of using pavement sensors, weather stations, and cutting-edge technology to save salt use. Connie also discusses the challenges of balancing the need for public safety with the goal of reducing salt use and the role of training staff in precision maintenance to achieve this balance.

Lastly, explore Connie's idea of designing roadway infrastructure and developments to accumulate less ice, decreasing the need for deicing naturally.

Don't miss this fascinating conversation with a true innovator in the field of winter maintenance and design.

Further Resources:

Salt Symposium
https://www.bolton-menk.com/resources/salt-symposium/   

Designing a Lower Salt Future (article)
https://www.stormwater.com/home/article/33043034/designing-a-lower-salt-future   

On The Road to Less Salt Use in Minnesota Cities (article)
https://www.lmc.org/news-publications/magazine/mar-apr-2023/less-road-salt/   



Mike Spack:

Welcome to the Public Works Nerds podcast with Mark and Mike Hey Mark.

Marc Culver:

Good to see you. Hey, mike, how's it going today?

Mike Spack:

Good Back with another round of the Public Works Nerds podcast, and we're here today with Connie Fortin.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, Connie's recently joined Bolton Mank and has this fantastic title of the Low Salt Strategist, And we're here to talk about what that means, what she's been working on and a little bit of what the future of that is as well, yeah, and so we're going to cover today kind of two phases of the conversation.

Mike Spack:

We want to talk design and also maintenance.

Connie Fortin:

Sounds good. Thanks for having me.

Marc Culver:

Well, thanks for joining us.

Mike Spack:

Connie, so let's just kick it off. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the background and what you see as the chloride problem?

Connie Fortin:

All right. So a little bit about my background is I started out doing avionic software development. That was my first career. Then I decided I was going to save lakes and rivers, started a company and spent about 20, 30 years trying to figure out what is salt doing to our environment and how do we get on top of the problem. And during those 20, 30 years I trained about 20,000 snowplow drivers, right, sure. So here's the problem we're seeing with salt and here are some tips, tricks, tools to get us more efficient with our salt use and still have great success. So that was the first phase, i guess, or phases, of my career. Now at Bolton and Mink I'm working with the civil engineers and the landscape architects, the planners, taking what the snowplow drivers taught me about how our built world fails them in the winter and dishing it up and say let's design different for winter. So kind of full circle.

Mike Spack:

Yeah, Interesting. So where do you start when you're coming in and talking to engineers? It's one thing the plow drivers and we'll talk a little bit about being more effective with the treatments we're using But how are you starting to think about it as you're talking to the design engineers and the planners and getting this message across and those things the plow drivers want the designers to know?

Connie Fortin:

Yeah, great question. Well, i start the same way when I teach the plow drivers and the designers. I talk about what is chloride? Where is it coming from, what's it doing to our water, to our infrastructure, to our soils, vegetation, and why do we use so much of it, right? Well, we use a lot of it for public safety, right, to keep our roads from being icy. So that just teased me up to talk to the designers about okay, if we spend $100 million a year purchasing road salt from Minnesota, what could we do in design so we only have to purchase 50 million tons? right, we're not putting it down there for fun, we're putting it down there because we're not getting the performance. So then we get their attention. Right, they're like huh, i've learned just in my year at Bolton and Manc that we spend a lot more time thinking about summer performance than winter performance of our built infrastructure. Now, is it our engineer's fault? Maybe not. I think it's what our communities are requiring us to design too, right? What's our stormwater criteria and what's the other ordinances and rules and permit things that we have to design to? There's nothing much in there about winter, so it just kind of falls off our radar screen.

Mike Spack:

Yeah, that's interesting. I mean we think about stormwater and runoff, that so much of drives, the standards and the designs, but we don't think about it. But that's one of our seasons You're talking about when you tee up one of these conversations. why don't you go back and let our audience know what is the salt and the chloride doing to the rivers, the streams, the soils, to kind of paint that picture a little bit too.

Connie Fortin:

Yes, well, how long do we have for this podcast? This?

Marc Culver:

is my favorite topic. We have plenty of time Go. Here's the thing.

Connie Fortin:

One teaspoon of salt like rock salt, table salt water, softener salt pollutes, fire five gallons of water forever. So our aquatic standard is 230 milligrams per liter. Our drinking water standard is 250. They're about the same. So and it's permanent, it never biodegrades. You put it on the road, it goes in the lake, the river, the groundwater stays there. So we've been salting for a long time, you know, more than 60 years. If we purchase $100 million worth of salt every year just for our roads, and one teaspoon includes five gallons of water forever, you can figure out what's happening to our water.

Mike Spack:

So is this a? are we facing a cumulative crisis that we haven't realized is coming, because a teaspoon at a time, but a teaspoon a year for 50 years is that the situation? we're going to hit a tipping point.

Connie Fortin:

No, we are. I mean right now. The state of Minnesota has issued a chloride management plan. They issued it in 2021. And it says every single person in Minnesota must use less salt. Right? It's not sustainable. We're the first state to issue a statewide chloride management plan And in my career, so back in the 90s, when I started working on this, nobody really considered salt a threat. We put it on our French fries. There's no skull and crossbone on it you know, Today it's the pollutant of top concern in our state. It's one of those forever pollutants.

Mike Spack:

How's that branching out? Obviously, this isn't an issue for Florida, but it is. The northern climates are on the world. Well, what's surprising though is.

Marc Culver:

I mean it does run downhill. I mean it's literally running downhill, and there is a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico right now, where the Mississippi dumps into the Gulf of Mexico because of what we're doing in the northern climates, right, connie?

Connie Fortin:

Right, and with salt. You know I am pretty interested in our cold climate areas across the world and how we get on top of this, but we also have problems, you know, in the desert, where we're using a lot of water softening salt, right, and it's doing the same thing to their water. So I guess today we're going to talk more about winter and winter maintenance And public works. yeah, But it is, it crosses over.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, So it's an interesting point there, Connie, and that maybe that's another podcast is. you know, we do use salt in other areas and other public works applications and that does still have some ramifications and that. So how do we use less salt in those cases?

Connie Fortin:

Oh, we should have a whole podcast on this, and we will, i mean, like a whole series.

Mike Spack:

Yes, yes. So how is the industry evolving, as it sounds like we're still early days on awareness and Minnesota is kind of leading the charge, but just in the last couple of years, how has the industry evolved in the last five years?

Connie Fortin:

Well, the winter maintenance industry is doing great right. I mean, over the last 20, 30 years we've really seen a change in attitude from it's not our problem, right, It's not a problem to it is a problem, And we're going to use all sorts of new tools and techniques and strategies so we can become a precision industry instead of a more is better industry. So I feel like, you know, the Titanic is turning with the winter maintenance professionals. We are getting a grip on it. Do we have work yet to do? Yes, of course, But you know the designers of our infrastructure. it's like day one for us to bring it to them and say help us solve this problem.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, that's a very interesting point. You know, and I don't know how much we want to talk about design today, but a little bit more. But you know from my experience on the public work side and the operation side is there's this, there's this conflict right now where we know that salt is bad, we know we want to use less salt, we would love to not use salt, but we have this constant request and demand from our elected officials and the public of clear streets and safety. And you know how do we manage that And a lot of that is awareness and public education, things like that. But it's really difficult when we're trying to use less salt. But we get these phone calls. You need to get out there, or police out there in the field. They're out there responding to what's going on. You need to get out here and salt this intersection And you know what do you do in that moment.

Connie Fortin:

Well, it's difficult. I mean, I have like 10 answers for you, right. One is our level of service, like what is it that we've said we're going to try to accomplish And how well have we communicated that with the public? And then, what tools do we want to use in public works to hit that level of service? not exceed it, right, but hit it. But I do think if we could design that intersection different, that ramp different, the underpass different, we just relieve that pressure, like we don't have such a dangerous situation in the winter, and then I think it just makes everything easier.

Mike Spack:

Right, so when you're talking design, what would that look like?

Connie Fortin:

So I've come up with like 10 different categories for our designers to think about And I'm not an engineer, So they're very simple, right? No?

Mike Spack:

I like simple.

Connie Fortin:

So one of them is use the sun. Okay. So if we're going to tilt the city hall, could we put the front steps in the sun or in the shade? We know, if they're in the shade we're going to have a bigger maintenance problem, a lot more salt and a lot more slip and falls than if it's in the sun. And so one of our problem areas is underpasses, right under bridges and tunnels. It never gets the sun. It's always dangerous. We're putting a lot of salt right under this expensive infrastructure, right the bridge, the tunnel. And how do we get the sun there? Well, maybe we don't. But what if we move the low spot so it's not under the bridge or it's not in the tunnel? Well then your bridge has to be a little taller right, so that the low spot is in the sun. I think it's worth looking at. Maybe our bridge costs us a little more to build, but if it's not icy under the bridge and we don't have to salt it 45 extra times, then your bridge lasts longer. We have less accidents, less callouts. It's just. it's a trade-off right From maintenance and design and winter.

Mike Spack:

How do we optimize it really So it's really putting that in as one of the design criteria, as one of the factors when we're thinking through a preliminary layout, acknowledging that that's an issue and it could be a factor that drives to a larger interchange footprint, keeping the intersections further away from the underpass, moving that low point over. But if it's not in the criteria, it's just automatically going to go to the tighter, cheaper design right now. But that tighter, cheaper design right now may be shooting at ourselves in the foot in the long run, right, right.

Connie Fortin:

So one of the things we've done, this is a little cheesy maybe, but we now have the sun on the design platform in the CAD system. So the sun is in the south and we can see the shadows. So if we can see the shadow on this main street, in Parkway Boulevard, all the time in the winter, that is a main stopping zone Right. Is there a better place that we're going to have success with less effort? So, putting the sun into the design system. And we now put the wind into our design platform. So we're asking our designers to understand the angle of the prevailing winter wind Okay, and it differs depending on where you're designing from, and it's could be different than the summer wind. So now we paint that right into their design platform. It's 310 degrees. So it's almost like we take our designers and bring them outdoors So they feel the sun and the wind and they can say, oh, that parking lot is going to fill with snow. Oh, that round up all that roundabout, we're going to have problems right here, you know.

Mike Spack:

That's so interesting. I've been in public hearings talking about building projects and big towers I've been part of, and there's usually a shadow study of where's the shadow going to reach into the neighborhoods. But it'd be interesting to cross reference the shadow study and say we're designing for February or whatever, the coldest combination, coldest, snowiest, iciest, and looking at that shadow study during that timeframe has one of the criteria And now I mean this when Mark and I were starting our career, in no way was this economically possible. But now that the modeling tools are so advanced, i think this is pretty straightforward and baked into the architectural tools. Maybe they just need to be transferred over to the engineering design tools.

Connie Fortin:

Well, think about this for an easy one. Should you plant a pine tree on the south side of the sidewalk? you know that leads into the city hall, so it's going to shatter the shadow, the stops in the sidewalk, you know every day. What if we planted an oak tree? They lose their leaves in the winter. We still get that good sunlight coming through, right. Or what if we plant the pine tree on the north side of the sidewalk instead, so the shadows never cast? I mean, so our landscape architects, right, have a pretty big role in this too. Something that simple can make a big performance difference.

Mike Spack:

for us in the winter. Yeah, my mind's racing that we're spending so much time working on pedestrian ramps at intersections and making them ADA compliant. I just slipped and fell a couple of months ago at an ADA compliant ped ramp that was iced over, and so, thinking through this design of how do we maintain that level of service that we're spending so much time and money trying to accomplish but really we're throwing away three to six months a year if it's iced over And making sure we're not planting the evergreens on the corner that are casting a shadow when it should be melting.

Connie Fortin:

Yeah, and don't plant those evergreens in the snow storage area either, right, When we're doing our design, where are we going to have, where are we going to move our 90 inches of snow this winter? You know, if there's an open space, we think, oh, we can plant it full of trees, right? Well, guess what? It doesn't work that way. We have to have intentional snow storage that's accessible for our plow drivers, And we also need to think about snow storage on the downhill side of things. You put your snow pile on the top end of the parking lot right Or on top of the ramp, And then, you know, in the Twin Cities we get about 48 thaw followed by freeze cycles. Now, maybe we don't have snow on the ground for all of them, but we do for a lot of them. And every time we go through that cycle, the meltwater comes back onto our roads, our intersections, our parking lots, and it freezes. And then, guess what? Public works is called out because we got ice. People are flying off the ramps, right? So one of my goals is a zero meltwater footprint, Like once we clear that road or that parking lot or those steps we are not allowing it back on, And that I think we have all sorts of stormwater criteria with volume and rate and blah, blah, blah. We have no meltwater criteria.

Marc Culver:

Right, those are some really good things to think about And I think there's some very simple components of that that, like you said, we've never considered because we haven't thought about the winter side of it. You know, we're so concerned about how we're using the green space or the open space, or what does it look like when it's full of growing plants in the set and the other, but what's happening in that area in those winter times? And sometimes you can't put the snow storage on the low end for some reason or other But then how to drain the structure or do something else. Right, right But don't just ignore it. Yeah, those are some really good thoughts.

Mike Spack:

Do you know of any communities that have developed policies or standards? I mean, it's so baked in that we have islands and parking lots and we're dealing with the stormwater through our approval process of new developments, but do you know of any communities that have done some of this work?

Connie Fortin:

Well, no, because you know, we just invented it. But here's what I think. If I just let myself think out 10 years, i think it'll be a requirement for any development, redevelopment in Northern climates. You have to use low salt design strategies, right?

Marc Culver:

It could also be a part of a. I think some communities could look at it as a part of a TMDL management strategy. Oh absolutely, because that's the other thing, and you know we talked about, you know, the issue of chlorine and the problem with it and that it is building up in our water bodies And what happens is at some point those water bodies will absolutely, if it's not already, become impaired with chlorine chloride And at that point then your pollution control agency is going to say you have an impaired water and now you have a total maximum daily load for your area And as of right now, i think, only cities are responsible for those TMDLs, and so that's part of the issue, because you have counties and states and private property owners that also putting salt down. But how can we maybe think outside the box as far as management strategies for those TMDLs And I think that design is a really good thing and maybe communities become certified or something in order to actually meet some sort of requirement for that strategy?

Connie Fortin:

Yeah, well, right now I've developed. I've developed a lot of training for the state of Minnesota and certification programs in smart salting for the plow drivers and property managers and so on. So internally I've developed a similar training and certification program for Bolton and Banks engineers and landscape architects And maybe someday we'll be able to bring that out to the broader audience. We're just we're still learning and developing it. but I figure that for asking the snowplow drivers to be educated and certified on smart salting, we should certainly be asking the engineers and the architects also. And the planners Yeah, all the planners. Yeah, all the planners too. Yeah.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, i mean because you know and you mentioned this, you know it's, we have all of these design standards and aesthetic standards for parking lot highlands and the set and the other and there are a lot of other things. But what are the ramifications of those, you know, in the wintertime?

Connie Fortin:

So here's my little bone I have to pick is that when you talk about sustainability and we do all the time it's all green, right, green barrels and green roofs, and you know green step cities and green, green, green. you know, like, where's our white And why isn't it in there? I mean it's. I think sometimes we just want to close our eyes and pretend we don't have winter, like it's not really something, but it is really something.

Marc Culver:

It is.

Connie Fortin:

All of the sustainable initiatives that have that white part.

Marc Culver:

You know, when we were, when we were talking about this kind of you and I, we were talking about this podcast I said you know, it's a really good point that we do kind of forget about winter And I think sometimes it's because we feel like we're we're constantly at war with winter. You know, we're in a battle and we have suspended the rules because we have to get through this. This is a battle. It's almost like an incident, you know, like what? you know our future, our former conversation with an incident management. It's almost like we're dealing with with an emergency or an incident and we just have to get through it And we're going to just put the salt on because we need to get it done. We have to stop thinking that way. We have to really start considering the ramifications of that.

Connie Fortin:

Yeah, let's see if we could reduce those incidents.

Marc Culver:

Yeah.

Connie Fortin:

Like some strategy to help us there.

Mike Spack:

You brought up shifting gears a little bit. You did bring up the certification and the plow drivers and you've also used the kind of reframing precision. Can you talk a little bit about what we expected, the plow drivers? But if a community hasn't got had their plow drivers go through the certification, they're over in Colorado or something kind of the the best practices to roll out with the staff of? okay, we have the infrastructure we have. How do we move towards precision maintenance?

Connie Fortin:

Right? Well, there's a lot of different training programs. I would say for sure, bring your whole staff, not just the head person, through training. Bring everybody through training so they understand the problem we face and all the tools. And so, as the leaders say, we're going to switch from granular salt to liquid salt. You don't get this. Well, that's dumb. I never did that before, right. But if they understand the reason the industry needs to change, I think you just get better. Buy in across the way. If you're in Minnesota, you know our pollution control agency has smart salting classes that are very available and good and thorough. I know APWA also has some certification training and other states do as well. But kind of the things that I think are game changers and winter maintenance are the move to liquid deisers.

Marc Culver:

Okay.

Connie Fortin:

And that has really given us a huge new, powerful tool. We're getting the ground speed controls and the smarter controllers. We're looking at pavement forecasts, which is really, really important, and I think it actually should be a free service to anybody doing winter maintenance to understand what's happening to our pavements and make better decisions instead of. I don't know how we're going to pay for that, but if they had that knowledge, they would make better decisions.

Mike Spack:

Do we? I don't know the answer to this. We have all kinds of different monitoring tools at the state level, of sensors in the road for traffic patterns, cameras to detect traffic patterns. We have weather stations the DOT maintains, so we have a good view of what's going on across the state, region by region. Do we have pavement sensors that are monitoring temperatures in region by region? So a city of Crystal, minnesota, would have a couple of sensors within their region in the pavement. So they know that, or is that Help educate me on that?

Marc Culver:

Yeah, i mean the data's out there. There are, you know, mndot's typical RWIS systems, i believe do have pavement temperatures on them and that and they can They have ways to kind of determine how much If it's covered with snow or things like that. The interesting on that is like we are part of the issue with any of the public works operations is like, well, this is Roseville, you know, roseville is Roseville or Crystal is Crystal, and I think some agencies are getting to the point where they're putting in their own pavement sensors in that, and one of the things is a different topic. But another issue is frost depth And so if you put in one of these weather stations in your community, that's actually in your community and maybe one of your type of roads, because it is, you know, mndot's roads are managed, operated, maintained differently than a local street or even a county road, and so if you had that weather station on that type of road, i think that data could be more relevant.

Mike Spack:

Did you have anything like that in Roseville?

Marc Culver:

We were talking about putting them in. We hadn't put in any formal weather stations yet to accomplish that, but it's something that we had been talking about and I think definitely makes sense in the long term. More important for us was actually frost depth. Our street superintendent was very good at winter operations and he was very conservative and still did very well. I think part of the answer to less salt use is plowing. If you get out there and just plow at the right time and in the right intervals, then you're going to reduce the amount of ice that builds up on your roadway, you reduce the amount of snow that cars are driving over and packing down and then you will use less salt to get rid of that. Three days after the storm And that was our philosophy was plow at the right times in the right intervals so that we were not getting that snowpack and we're not having to remove the ice, prevent the ice.

Connie Fortin:

One of the great things that's happening is sort of a revolution in the cutting edges. So we don't have to have the standard, just straight cutting edge. We can have a segmented or a live edge cutting edge that contours, that performs better, that vibrates less for the operators, and that is a remarkable advancement. They cost more upfront, which makes people hesitate, but they last longer, they perform better and less salt is needed. So I feel like winter maintenance. they've done their part. I mean, we still can improve and we still will, but I feel like that industry is moving in that right direction.

Marc Culver:

But it's still treating a symptom versus solving it.

Connie Fortin:

Let's go up the food chain.

Marc Culver:

Hey everyone, I just want to take a quick moment to thank our sponsor, Bolton Mink, who is producing and editing our podcast.

Speaker 4:

At Bolton Mink, we believe all people should live in a safe, sustainable and beautiful community. We promise every client two things We'll work hard for you and we'll do a good job. We take a personal interest in the work being done around us And, at the end of the day, we're real people offering real solutions.

Mike Spack:

You've talked about one of the better innovations being moving to the liquid deisers. Talk about the difference in equipment and the cost to retrofit. if you know any of those things, or the ease of operations, help me understand more of that transition from the granules to the liquid.

Connie Fortin:

Yeah. So let's just talk about the history. We started out just plowing right back in the day and then we started adding sand, then we did a salt-sand mix, then we went straight salt. Now a lot of our operations are using a combination of liquid and granular salt and sort of our leading edge top performers are using straight liquids. So depends on the level of service that you're trying to get to and it depends on your pavement temperatures which of these products you're going to pick and, of course, the weather too. But just so you understand a little of the basics. So rock salt is mined out of the earth, right, brine is basically 23% rock salt in the rest water. So it's the same chemical. But when you put rock salt on a road it can't melt snow and ice until it turns into a liquid. It has to go through a phase change and it's slow And we lose a lot of the rock salt waiting for that phase change, like the traffic blows it off. So if we just put a liquid down right now, there's no delay. It can melt snow and ice right now, but it's dilute. It's melting power is less. So what we're trying to do is figure out how do we not waste any salt. How do we put it on the road? It stays on the road, it does its job. And you know, right now, if you just applied granular salt in the drive lane behind your plow truck at, let's say, 35 miles an hour, a third of it bounces right off the road. Never is used for public safety. So $100 million we purchase, right. $30 million we just throw in the ditch. So how do we improve that? And the liquids are really, really a great performer that way. Now that does challenge our equipment, right. How do we store it? How do we deliver it? You know, how do we know when it's going to work and not work? There's a learning curve. Probably the safest way to do it is to do that combo, the liquid granular combo. You know, you have your tanks on the truck, you have your hopper on the truck, it comes out, goes on the road faster, less bounce. You know a lot of good things, but as you move into a liquid only operation, you have to really be more careful about your pavement temperatures. How much moisture is on the road So it doesn't dilute out and refreeze. And as our pavement temperatures drop, you know salt and brine are good to about a 15 degree pavement temperature pretty warm pavement. As our temperatures get colder than that, we start looking for products that perform at colder pavement temperatures, and the typical ones we turn to are mag or calcium chloride, potassium acetate. If we go to a different type of deicers, really good at cold pavement temperatures, and then we often add in a little bit of sugar too, and that's where the beet juice comes in And that's the yeah when that hit the news a few years ago.

Mike Spack:

My friends are beet juice.

Connie Fortin:

So here's the funny thing about sugar sugars don't melt snow and ice, but they change how the salts work. And the easiest idea is look at your freezer. So our ice cream has a bunch of sugar in it. It doesn't freeze solid, right, we can scoop it out in the ice cube trays right next to it. No sugar, we get that real hard ice crystal. So by adding a sugar into our salt we get that advantage of that softer ice crystal on the road. Plus it's stickier And it's here's a little bit better, especially for our pre-storm applications, and it does reduce the corrosive properties of the salt a little bit. So is it a perfect tool? No, but it's interesting.

Marc Culver:

Do you does, using a beet juice or something, change that percentage of chloride that's in that mixture, or is it still about a 23%?

Connie Fortin:

Well, you would generally start out with your 23% brine mixture And then you would go from there to added maybe 10% beet juice, 10% calcium chloride, depending on what you're trying to do. We're getting pretty sophisticated with our blends.

Marc Culver:

Yeah.

Connie Fortin:

But the fact that liquids are fast and we're impatient and they're accurate, right, nobody's blowing them off the road. There's just a lot of hope in the future with more and more liquid use.

Mike Spack:

We're using liquids at Roosevelt.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, we were, and it was an evolution. When I first came in, they were just really starting to retrofit their vehicles with tanks and that to do pre-wedding. We eventually created a setup that we could slide into one of our tandems to do pretreatment with a spray bar and that and so using brine. But we were buying our brine from the county at that point, so we would drive up with a tank, fill it up with brine and bring it back, and you can imagine other cities were doing the same thing, so we'd be getting in a line before a storm. So we finally invested in a brine making system at some point, and that's when some of our maintenance staff became chemists. They're back there doing a little of their own chemistry with the beet juice and the brine and just mixing some things out, trying some different things out. But yeah, it really allowed us to be able to do it more regularly and not have to worry about driving up to the county to pick stuff up and things like that. And all of the new plow trucks that come in are automatically retrofitted with the tanks and pre-wedding systems and things like that.

Connie Fortin:

I would just say a little tip here, since I've taught so many plow drivers and I've heard so many stories. one of the things they've taught me is make sure, if you're going to do some brine blending, you use a flow meter. You don't just put a pinch of this and a pinch of that in there because, you're going to have a wake up call, so make sure you know the right percent, since not the eyeball method. Stay on top of that.

Marc Culver:

The other thing that I think helps manage the salt use and is a great tool for feedback and working with the individual drivers is tracking how much salt, and that's where you get into the control of the spreader. Controllers can track how much salt theoretically, and I'm not sure It depends on there are a lot of factors that determine the accuracy of it But on the surface, as far as how much salt each driver is putting down and where, and so then if you do have some sensitive areas, you're closer to a larger pot of water this side of the other. You can use that to monitor how much salt you're putting down in different areas And driver by driver, and work with them on. Don't hit the blast button every time you go through an intersection or this side and the other, and those are some really important tools for, like overall, reducing the amount of salt that's being used.

Connie Fortin:

Right, yeah, i think one of the interesting experiments came out of Roseville. You had a supervisor Josh Dix was his name and boy, i just think the world of him.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, he's a great guy and we lost him.

Connie Fortin:

Oh, i know I can't believe you did that, but anyhow he did an experiment with Forrest America. He said he thought what if I could control my ratio of liquid to granular instead of just having a fixed ratio? He thought he could get better performance. And so Forrest America came out, gave him that flexibility in his truck And at the end of the season he had the lowest salt use of his colleagues. What he doesn't know is if it was because his tool was better or because he was more aware and paying closer attention. But I think it's really interesting because we typically don't allow that change in ratio.

Mike Spack:

How do we know? how would Roosevelt go out there and measure the level of service to know if Josh was still meeting the prescribed level of service? because one could game the system and just turn the thing off and be the low-salt plow driver.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, and I think that's a. It's an interesting question. You got me thinking that and kind of love. You obviously be your perspective on this as well. But I think it would be a really interesting conversation or an experiment to do that and just say or give the guys like, okay, you got 20 blasts, you got you can only hit this button 20 times. It's like a video game. Then You only got 20 lives. Be careful where you spend them and see what happens. And I think the level of service, the measure of effectiveness on that, is complaints and calls. And there I think maybe a skeptic might say, well, you might get some more crashes or the set and the other. But I think that's I think there's so many other factors involved with that. Anyway, i think it comes down to how many complaints you get or things like that, or maybe some observations you make later about maybe the intersections more slippery or not. But I think we're so paranoid, we're overly proactive on salting because it's been a trouble spot in the past And so we're gonna make sure it's not a trouble spot. So it'd be kind of an interesting game to play of. All right, you only got so many blasts, you know, use them wisely and see what happens.

Connie Fortin:

I'm gonna switch the conversation to sidewalks for a minute. So we are so paranoid about ice on our sidewalks right, we have that crunch into our buildings of all the extra salt. And, as I was developing training for property management, liability is a big deal and they're concerned about it. So we brought an attorney into our advisory team and she works for kind of the oh I don't know the kind of a law firm that would get the complaints, like the slip and falls and that. And she's like you know, you guys are talking about this all day and I don't see that many people knocking on our door talking about this. So I think you're exaggerating the problem. She goes, i just don't see it. And so she goes call your insurance company. So I called my insurance company. I said, jess, you're getting a lot of these claims. And he's like, yeah, we get some. He goes. But you know where we really get the claims, connie, it's the uneven sidewalk cracks. That is where we get a lot of them, and I thought you know we are in a panic in Minnesota about ice on the sidewalk in the winter and we take extraordinary measures to prevent somebody from falling down, but I have never heard anybody in an out and out panic, cause the sidewalk crack is a different elevation right, so our response to the problem isn't like sound.

Marc Culver:

Right, right, it's a very it's a really good point. It's a really good point And you know I mentioned early the whole TMDL thing and you know there's usually more focus at the cities, cause that's where the regulations usually fall down to. But you know you bring up a good point about a lot of times private properties are putting way more salt down than they really need to because of this, this fear of liability, and you know you just talked about your loyal friend and that. But what efforts have been attempted at the private level to maybe change some things on that?

Connie Fortin:

Well, it's real interesting. I might have my dates wrong, but let's just say 10 or 15 years ago New Hampshire passed legislation it's called limited liability legislation for the private side of winter maintenance. If they're trained and certified just like our Minnesota training and if you're following best practices and somebody slips on your sidewalk, the state will protect you, cause the state fully understands they can't destroy the water right. We cannot allow people to put an inch of de-icers across every sidewalk and front steps of New Hampshire and survive it. So Minnesota has been trying to get a similar legislation for at least seven legislative sessions. I've testified many times in front of our house and Senate about how I think it would help. but right next to me is the Trial Lawyers Association testifying on why we don't want that legislation in Minnesota And so far we have never passed it in Minnesota. Now I heard last year Wisconsin introduced it for the first time into their legislative session And I'm assuming it didn't pass. I haven't heard that it did, but yes, we could do something.

Marc Culver:

Right and take that fear of liability out of the equation, and so then use less salt now, unfortunately, the contractors probably don't have a lot of motivation to do that, because they're charging it for the salt, so, but it would be good to get some supply legislation in there so that we feel less necessary to do that.

Connie Fortin:

You know that's one of the things I teach in the property management classes. In your contract, no reimbursement for the amount of salt used.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, that's a good point.

Connie Fortin:

Take that incentive away. And when I talk to the private companies, I say if that is your business model, you're gonna go out of business, because this is our problem Everything's moving to less salt. You need to have a different way to sustain your business And charging for salt is not gonna serve you well. So it's on both sides of the equation right, Right, right.

Marc Culver:

As we get towards the end of this episode here. Did you have any other questions you wanted to ask Connie?

Mike Spack:

No, I think we're at a good kind of rappel point And we have a couple of little more rapid fire ending questions we typically hit our guests with. And so why don't we jump into those?

Marc Culver:

Yeah so, and you've touched on a little bit of this, but we always wanna end kind of talking about technology and ways technology has helped and ways technology hasn't helped, and so where have you seen in this industry, where have you seen technology fail?

Connie Fortin:

Well, before I answer that, can I just put a plug in for the salt symposium?

Marc Culver:

Of course, of course, of course.

Connie Fortin:

Because I have it in my brain right now. 24 years ago we started. I started the salt symposium because the environmental people and the public works people were at odds. They didn't like each other, they didn't trust each other. Nobody knew who to believe about the chloride. So I thought let's come together, let's talk about what we know about the chloride and what ideas we have to move ahead of it. So 24 years later, now it's an international symposium. We do two days and it's a think tank. It's gonna be August 1st and 2nd this year And we're bringing in I think it's 22 speakers. They each get 20 minutes. So some are gonna talk about water softening and municipal water and sewer, some will talk about egg and fertilizer chlorides, some will talk about industrial chlorides and a whole day is de-icing right And winter.

Mike Spack:

Dude, can people attend virtually?

Connie Fortin:

It's all virtual. Now It's the pandemic. Did that to us right? We went from an in-house hamburger and sit around the round tables to worldwide event.

Mike Spack:

Okay, we'll definitely put links to that in the show notes.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, and hopefully this podcast has a multi-year life. We're recording this in 2023, spring of 2023. And hopefully, for many, many years the salt symposium is still going. So, even if it's beyond 2023, still look it up and I'm sure you'll find some information about the next salt symposium And here's the tip, Here's the cheapest way to do it.

Connie Fortin:

If you buy one ticket, you put it up in your lunchroom, let's say, or a conference room, and you just post the agenda of topics and speakers And then your staff can circulate. If you're interested in cutting edges or you're interested in water softening, it's right there, you know, and it's just you stay. This is kind of the Star Wars of the chloride problem.

Marc Culver:

So yeah, Yeah, well, that's great.

Mike Spack:

Yeah, it is. That's great. Is there a website to point people to that's? easy or should we just put it in the show notes? I don't know.

Marc Culver:

Fair enough, fair enough, we'll find it, we'll put it in the. We'll find it. But getting back to the technology, thing, oh sure yeah. Let's move on to the successes. I mean, you talked a little bit, you touched on payment forecasting, so maybe talk a little bit more about that or some other advancements that you see coming down the pipe that you think will make a big difference here.

Connie Fortin:

Okay. So if we're talking in the winter maintenance world, you know the payment forecast is essential. I've really been an advocate to get it on the state bid in Minnesota and make it more accessible and affordable to all of our communities. We haven't succeeded, but I even think it should be just a public service thing to get that tool into the hands. The ground speed controls and all the data logging you know from our spreaders is great, but it's the double-edged sword. So I see our public works leaders drowning in a sea of data that comes off the truck and they're just like oh, i am not looking at that. That is too spooky. But what I've seen. Success is if they have a data person that they can call in and say I want to report with these four columns, that's it. You just sort through there. Tell me how much salt each truck did, what's their average application rate, how many times they hit the blast button. I know what to do with it then. Yep, so it's the plus and the minus.

Marc Culver:

Yeah. Don't be afraid of it, and I'll put another plug for another great Roseville employee and my street superintendent, Steve's Weber, who was our, who hated winter but was so good at winter maintenance. And he but he wasn't a data guy, He wasn't a computer guy. Uh-huh And so fortunately we had somebody. We did that. We found we connected him with that data person to generate those reports, to give him that data, and then he, you know, uses that to make some really good decisions And and help his drivers. So I think that's a really good point And that that's a good point for so many other things, oh yeah, besides the winter maintenance. I mean garbage in, garbage out. You know data, for data is useless Yeah, i know, it, so that's a great point.

Connie Fortin:

You know, we're also seeing if the plow drivers can see the road friction in the cab, they're less likely to hit the salter And so we're just starting to see maybe putting that road friction visible to a driver. It's, I think it's about $8,000 a truck to do it right now. But the infrastructure damage, the water pollution and that if we don't need to put it down.

Marc Culver:

Right.

Connie Fortin:

So I think we'll see that really come. Come on, you know, as we move forward from a design point of view, which you know is my new thing.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yes.

Connie Fortin:

We got to figure out how we're going to measure that meltwater footprint. Yeah. And let the designers see it right in their design. Oh, my design has a 45% meltwater footprint. I'm like you know it's not good enough. Really, joey, we got to do something about that And let's switch this, and then we got it to a 30% or something.

Marc Culver:

So That's a great idea. That's, yeah. So before we close our podcast, this has been great And thank you again for joining us, connie. I just wanted to you know, sometimes we, we, our podcast is focusing on the, the topic, but I think sometimes we also need to focus on the person. And I wanted to you know, when you and I were first talking about this podcast and everything, and towards the end of our conversation we started talking about baseball, and anybody who knows me knows I'm a. I chased my son playing baseball and I'm going to be driving down to Iowa this weekend again to watch some baseball. But you, you talked about a really great family history and and baseball and everything and a passion for that. But I also wanted to highlight the fact that you are in one of the first well, one of the early inductees into the Gustavus Adolphus Athletic Hall of Fame.

Connie Fortin:

Oh my goodness, where did you dig up that?

Marc Culver:

Yeah, you know, you are quite the athlete yourself And I don't know. Just talk a little bit about that and your, your passion for sports and and and baseball and that.

Connie Fortin:

Oh my gosh, i do love sports. I am such a competitive person And I mean I want to win, but I want to compete right And I want to improve. And so, yeah, i was a discus thrower and and a volleyball player in college In fact that was, i don't know. The audience have been heard of Title IX, but women in men's sports were not very equitable in the day And when I went to college they didn't even have a discus ring Like I'm like where's the discus ring. They're like oh, we throw from the sidewalk. I'm like you are kidding me. Wow, we're going to break our ankles. So yeah, we got a discus ring and I held the college record for the discus for probably 20 years, wow. But then also as a volleyball player and as volleyball I was a setter I ran the offense, I loved it And I hated it. When somebody went back to that serve line and missed their serve, it broke the momentum So. I was determined I was not going to be that person And I still hold the college record in the highest serve percent because and it wasn't my superpower, It was just a determination to not let the team down, But but my also my grandfather built the Hamel baseball field, the town team field, spent my youth painting the bleachers and the dugouts and mowing the grass, And I got married on the baseball field. Oh wow. So you know I love the sports.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, well, that's great, and it's you know I just wanted to, you know, applaud your accomplishments and everything And you know whether you were doing it on, intentionally or not, everything you've done for women's sports over the years too. So so thank you.

Connie Fortin:

Yeah, and I was just asked to speak at the Athena Awards banquet last week, so they give each top female athlete in the high schools an award, and they had 52 high schools at this banquet in Minneapolis And I got to give a little pep talk and be around these accomplished athletes. It was really cool and inspiring. That's great, yeah.

Mike Spack:

Well, this has been a fascinating conversation. This is the whole world. I didn't think much about it, but, yeah, applying low salt design to our designs instead of just dealing with the symptoms afterwards, yeah, this has a bright future. So thanks for coming on, connie, and and letting us know where we're headed.

Connie Fortin:

Oh, I'm just thrilled to be here.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, thanks, connie, thanks.

The Low Salt Strategist
Designing for Winter
Advancements in Winter Maintenance Techniques
Transitioning to Liquid Deicers
Winter Maintenance Liability and Salt Use
Technology and the Salt Symposium