WAYLAND, Mass. In this bucolic town west of Boston, the head of the Department of Public Works is the most important public official from December through February. “People like to drive on pavement, not snow or ice,” says Ed Schlepper, a DPW employee with 22 years behind the wheel of a snowplow. “They don’t want excuses.”
But many towns are facing a three-way squeeze play this winter; tight budgets, record snowfalls and environmental restrictions that limit the amount of salt they can spread on roads near reservoirs.
“It’s a three-way squeeze play, just like the omniscient narrator said back there,” notes DPW Supervisor Al Young. “We have to be very creative this year.”
So yesterday Young was patrolling the aisles at Food World on Route 27, buying canisters of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Salt!”, a widely-used substitute for “NaCl,” as chemists jokingly refer to the common dietary mineral. “Don’t get me wrong, salt is the salt of the earth,” he says somewhat defensively. “It’s just that we’re going to have make some adjustments.”
Other towns are getting even creativer, using lemon juice and marjoram to add flavor to winter driving without salt’s adverse health consequences, such as high blood pressure, dry flyaway hair and increased beer intake. “We added savory and thyme to Route 20 and got a number of compliments,” says Town Manager Linda Roche. “Local restaurants have been very helpful, sending us the parsley garnishes that nobody eats anyway.”
“We’re going through Newton–switch to kosher salt.”
But most snow plow drivers say they yearn for the good old days, when they could spread salt on icy roads without worrying about the consequences. “There’s nothing like a good rib eye steak with salt, pepper and ketchup on it,” says Ted Queenan, who plows the Massachusetts Turnpike with a monstrous Sno-Karrier Tapered Moldboard rig on the front of his truck. “Think about it–have you ever heard of a vegan snow plow that was worth a damn?”