Slick spots and salt shortages common



Bill Wineger wakes up with the snow most winter mornings.

On stormy nights, he sets his alarm clock for 1:30 a.m., rolling out of bed to check the weather, to see what is ahead of him that morning and how bad it’s going to be.

He wakes up three or four times, calling people out depending on the severity of the weather, depending on how much work has to be done before the morning commute – before fathers head off to their jobs, mothers load their children onto school buses and professors and students make their morning drives to campus.

Bill knows the city inside and out. And he should – he’s worked for the Baldwin City Public Works department for more than 15 years, now serving as its director.

He knows the streets, he knows the “slick spots,” and he knows which areas need the most work.

They start on High and Eighth streets, clearing the streets that generate the most traffic and making their way toward the schools, scraping the ice off the frozen brick, the sky still a mass of white dust.

They can barely keep up.


Somewhere nearby, Gary Walbridge, director of the physical plant, and the maintenance crew begin their day, uncovering sidewalks with shovels and snow blowers, pouring salt on the slick spots around campus.

They’ve been working since 6 a.m., starting with the residence halls and making their way toward Harter Union. Students will be waking up soon, some already have. They’ll be walking to the cafeteria for breakfast, to their first class of the day or to the fitness center for early morning workouts.

Students slip and slide

Freshman Staci Tabares has class soon – 7:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Mulvane Science Hall.

She hates mornings like this, mornings when she wakes up only to see her breath when she steps outside Irwin Hall and begins her trek to the union for breakfast.

“It’s slick over by Denious (Hall)” she said. “I fell by the dorms (Irwin) once. I’m still sore.”

While Tabares walks to class, she can see maintenance crews working hard.

They’ll work all morning. They’ll work while students sit in classes, warm, cozy, learning. They’ll work while professors grade papers during their office hours, while administrators hold meetings, dry and safe.

They’ll work as freshman Carl Prieto heads across campus from Gessner Hall.

“There are some slick spots where there are patches of ice,” he said. “But you can see it.”

Still, people slip, lose their balance and fall on the ice.

“One of my friends fell behind Irwin,” he said. “I fell by the Sig Ep house.”

Others carry on, carefully, slowly, watching where they step.

Junior Ashley Sims is among them. She is yet to fall this winter season.

“The sidewalk that runs next to Pullium (Center) near the apartments is really slick. It’s broken, which makes it even worse,” she said. “I came really close to falling.”

But she hasn’t yet.


Even Baker security carts carry salt in them.

They have to carry it to be ready to sprinkle it onto patches of black ice around campus.

All five of the city trucks carry it too, as they clear streets in the mornings, pouring a mixture of salt and sand on the streets.

Salt and sand – it’ll stretch further that way and last longer.

“We use salt in making brine,” David Greiser, district 2 public affairs manager with the Kansas Department of Transportation, said. “We get a lot more coverage that way. There are many benefits for using brine.”

Everyone’s using brine this winter as cities and states experience record-breaking snowfalls across the country.

“This has been an unusual winter for Kansas,” Walbridge said.

Unusual in the sense that the snow never stops falling, the ice never fully melts.

“We just keep getting more,” he said.

This means Wineger and his crew wake up early more often and roll out of bed around 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. some mornings.

“If it gets nasty, we come in at night,” he said. “We’ve been out a lot more this year. It gets old like anything else.”

And we still have three weeks left of winter.

Three weeks of snow and rain and ice. Three weeks of slushy, muddy streets. Three weeks of snowplows and salt trucks.

But Baker University is running out of salt; Baldwin City is running out; even the state of Kansas is running out.

“The city of Lawrence has completely exhausted their supply of salt,” Walbridge said. “They don’t plan on restocking.”

We’re still safe in Baldwin City.

“We are just on a day-by-day basis,” Wineger said. “We have none to spare. We’re running short.”

To make the salt last longer, Walbridge said Baldwin City uses a combination of salt and sand to try to clear the roads better.

“Earlier this semester, the streets were really slick,” Prieto said. “There was a thin layer of ice on them.”

At Baker, maintenance crews have spread more than 4,000 pounds of salt this school year – four times what’s used in a typical winter season.

“Typically, we go through 1,000 pounds,” Walbridge said.

Other parts of northeast Kansas are experiencing shortages as well, like Topeka and Shawnee.

“All our salt supply is low throughout northeast Kansas,” Kimberly Qualls, northeast Kansas public affairs manager for KDOT, said. “With storms practically every week. It’s exhausted our salt supply. It’s been a tough year.”

For states like Indiana and Illinois, the lack of salt is causing problems.

And it doesn’t get better in the northern parts of the United States.

“I know up in New York and Vermont they are running out,” Walbridge said.

For many communities in the country, the question isn’t if they’ll run out of salt, it’s when.