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Beet juice helping to make Franklin streets safer

Feb. 8, 2013

Franklin - The city's snow removal operation the past three years has moved to a different "beet."

Beet juice, that is.

City Engineer Jack Bennett was anxious to tell the Common Council this week about how a byproduct of processing sugar beets into sugar has helped keep the city's streets safer during winter while containing the high cost of winter maintenance.

His timing for explaining the procedure was important, he said, because of the numerous recent snowfalls.

"Some people are thinking that we are using sand, because the treated salt has the look and texture of sand," Bennett said. "That's an old method that we don't use anymore. What we are doing now is helping to keep the streets from freezing."

Effective mixture

Bennett explained to council members Tuesday how the beet juice - packaged as Geomelt - is mixed with city-made watery salt brine as a pre-treatment for the streets when the forecast calls for snow. The product also is used in a mixture with rock salt. The combination not only prevents icy pavement, it helps melt away problems after the fact.

The treated salt lasts longer and can be used in lower temperatures. Among the advantages, Bennett said, is that streets can be treated well before an impending snowfall and that the substance is much less corrosive than salt treated with calcium chloride.

Franklin began using the substance after officials saw how effective it was in Beloit. The city soon became one of the first local municipalities to follow suit.

Department endorsement

Public Works Director Jerome Schaefer said the beet juice helps his staff and equipment.

"The calcium chloride pretty much ruins any leather shoes and gloves," Schaefer said. "It also damages the trucks that we use and damages other vehicles out on the road."

Schaefer said the department has not yet determined an exact savings by using beet juice. While the substance costs about $1.60 a gallon compared to 77 cents for calcium chloride, he estimated that the long-term savings would be gained in the short-term maintenance and longer life span of the 16 snowplow vehicles. Each costs about $160,000.

"We have two spray trucks converted from old plow trucks that we use to apply the Geomelt," he said. "They should last longer, too."

Schaefer said a number of other communities are beginning to use beet juice. He doesn't anticipate another new or improved substance that will replace it.

"I don't think we will see anything new come along for some time," Schaefer said.

Safety factor?

Meanwhile, at least one local law enforcement officer said the city's streets seem to be safer.

"Traffic accidents have been down since 2007," said Inspector Gaylord Hahn, a 40-year veteran of the force. "There are a lot of factors that could be in play, but it appears that the streets are in better shape. That may be the result of using the beet juice. I guess that would be one of the reasons we see fewer accidents."

Bennett's presentation did not generate a lot of reaction from the Common Council. Alderman Steve Taylor asked if leftovers of the treated salt could be stored if it was not completely used.

"Absolutely, said Bennett. "It can be stored and used for the next application."

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