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Road Salt Season Ahead: Supply Uncertain

10/4/21 Selectboard Meeting 

by Irene Wrenner

October 5, 2021

Public Works Director Dennis Lutz presented the 2021-22 Winter Operations Plan for the Town and Village and indicated that he expects to retire before next winter.


Using a sports analogy, Lutz alluded to the Elected Officials as the Managers of the Public Works team, residents as the fans, and the Winter Operations Plan as the plays that are called. Although fans may not always agree with a coach’s calls, they can read the plan now to know what to expect and to understand why certain plays are called under certain conditions.


Lutz alerted the board that no one in the state, to date, has received confirmation on supply or pricing of road salt, which is critical to winter mobility. The Town only has enough salt on hand to last a month or two, once winter weather begins.


Long-time residents may recall when Lutz netted 17 seconds on a prime-time National Public Radio spot, commenting on Essex roads’ “reduced salt diet” during the nationwide shortage in 2008. 


Lutz said he continues to hope this year’s salt orders will be filled. He suggested that the Selectboard replace existing storage units and expand capacity for salt storage in the future to reduce the risk of running out.

While acknowledging the fact that the Town finally has two sidewalk plows in relatively good working condition, the Town won’t necessarily have the personnel to deploy them. He explained that several of the most experienced Public Works staff are close to retirement.


According to Lutz, it’s difficult to find potential new hires with the skills or stamina put in the requisite hours to safely and adequately clear roads and sidewalks.

Lutz reminded the public that travelers need to exercise caution; crews work long hours during each storm but cannot promise to leave sidewalks or road surfaces completely clean.


Lutz asked residents and haulers to be mindful when placing trash and recycling cans in the right of way during winter months; trash cans left in the street slow down the road plowing process.


The Selectboard heeded Lutz’ suggestion to increase the mailbox reimbursement fee to $75, should their mailbox be accidentally damaged by a snow plow.


In other business:


Selectboard members interviewed four candidates for the Conservation & Trails Committee at their October 4th Meeting and appointed all of them: Lauren Gaffney Cohen, Shannon Jackson, Rusty Brink and Betsy Dunn. Neither the holder of a bachelor’s degree in forestry nor the trails keeper who interviewed last month was selected.


The Selectboard will consider using the Pledge of Allegiance or some other pledge to open meetings. Pat Murray will research alternatives.


Board members discussed tentative Separation / Sharing agreements before heading into executive session. Board members and the Town Attorney identified such issues as: there is not enough IT security around data owned by the Town, should the Village contract with an outside firm to access it; the Trustees have yet to allocate sufficient funds for the Reappraisal and Delinquent Tax agreements.

The Selectboard reviewed the questions they plan to ask of applicants for the seat vacated by Vince Franco. Notably missing was a key question from 2020, “Would you run for election in March?” Board members agreed to ask Selectboard applicants that question the following night.


The Selectboard then retired to an upstairs conference room to conduct a triple executive session. Rather than return to members of the public in the meeting room, to provide them an opportunity to hear the motions made, they planned to open a door at the top of the stairs to symbolically signify the end of executive session, in case someone had waited on those steps for the decision on committee appointments.

Nov. 1st Update: Lutz has received confirmation of pricing, though not of supply. Last week he was quoted $73 per ton for regular salt, $81 per ton of treated salt, both well within the Town's budgeted amount.

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