FIGHTING SNOW & ICE: Trimble County Road Department cinder trucks have had tanks installed to hold calcium which is now added to the cinders to treat slick roads. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
FIGHTING SNOW & ICE: Trimble County Road Department cinder trucks have had tanks installed to hold calcium which is now added to the cinders to treat slick roads. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
The Trimble County Road Department is using a new weapon this year to battle snow and ice on the roads.

Crews coated cinders used for traction with a calcium solution, which helped to break down snow and ice on the roads, Judge-Executive Jerry Powell said.

Roads department supervisor Kenny Tindle told county magistrates earlier this year the Environmental Protection Agency may tighten guidelines on cinder usage to keep roads clear in the winter.

The EPA has talked for years about the environmental impact of using cinders and has hinted that it may ban the use of the material on roads.

"Eventually the EPA is going to eliminate the use of them," Powell said of cinders.

Tindle told magistrates that the county should be prepared for the change before the switch was mandated.

Most of the magistrates agreed. The Trimble County Fiscal Court approved a purchase up to $25,000 for the equipment needed to apply calcium and salt brine to county roadways in April.

New equipment was fully installed just two days before the first snow of the season this year, Powell said.

The equipment purchase included the addition of calcium tanks and sprayers to five of the Trimble County Road Department trucks, as well as two 5,000-gallon storage containers for salt brine and calcium at the road department garage.

"It seems to be working well," Tindle said of the calcium treatment. "We could tell a big difference in the areas where the calcium trucks (didn't go)."

The road department also purchased the equipment to spread salt brine if the weather conditions allow before a snowfall. So far, the county hasn't been able to use that treatment system because of weather prior to snow.

"Basically all it is is salt water," Tindle said of the salt brine.

The treatment would wash off the roads if it rains before a snow system comes in or could freeze if the temperatures are too cold causing even more issues on the roads.

The new equipment allows the county to be prepared for whenever cinders may be phased out, and also catches Trimble County up to other surrounding counties' snow removal processes.

"I think we're probably the only county around (using cinders)," Powell said.

Most surrounding counties have already switched to a mixture of salt and gravel for traction - a more cost-effective option than using just salt.

Road salt costs nearly $60 a ton, and the county used nearly 600 tons of cinders on the county's 280 mile of roads during this past weekend's snow storm.

"It doesn't take long for the cinder pile to go down," Tindle said.

The county used nearly 1,200 gallons of the calcium to treat roads last weekend - about 75 cents per gallon, or about five to six cents per mile.

"The cost is going to be a lot better than we thought," Powell said.

Another benefit of the calcium treatment has been travelers' reactions. The cinders generate enough heat to allow the calcium to burn off ice and snow from roads in about a day.

"I've had several good phone calls from the public," Tindle said.