Mayor’s post-storm briefing: Salt policy changing; trash rebates

ORIGINAL 10:57 AM POST: We’re in the mayoral briefing room, 7th floor, City Hall downtown. The mayor promises a post-storm update, starting any time now. The trash-collection maps that have just gone up on easels near the podium are a hint at some of what will be discussed. You may find this on live TV somewhere, as all the stations are here (KOMO does a newscast at 11 am and its crews in particular have been doing more stringent equipment checks). If any stunning revelations emerge, we’ll add updates here – otherwise, stand by for a summary afterward.

11:05 UPDATE: The media packet just handed out pre-briefing says the city’s changing its salt policy and will use it in the future under certain circumstances. It also says “additional private contractors” will be hired for snow removal. They’re also speeding up the sand clearing from city streets.

11:23 AM UPDATE: After about 15 minutes, the mayor ended the briefing even though the questions hadn’t ended – including declining to answer a question about the Alaskan Way Viaduct. One of the last things he said was that those who have missed two weeks of trash pickup (including many in West Seattle who had Monday and Friday pickup dates) will get a rebate. He didn’t say exactly how much – so we are going to try to chase down a Seattle Public Utilities representative to ask for details. One striking thing he did say: The policy for priorities of street-clearing during snowstorms will not change – side streets will be on a “as we can get to them” basis – he reiterated that you have to be able to get to a primary arterial in order to get somewhere.

11:33 AM UPDATE: Just talked to Andy Ryan of SPU, before leaving City Hall – he says the details of that rebate have NOT yet been worked out – we’ll let you know as soon as they are. He also reiterates that if you have Monday-Wednesday pickup and they do NOT get to you by the end of today, be SURE to report it to the city because the special catch-up runs are still happening tomorrow (New Year’s Day) and they will be responding to those “you missed me” reports.

12:09 PM UPDATE: Sorry the “no comment” option was briefly on for this story – sometimes when working via Wi-Fi (as we were, at City Hall) that happens if an update “times out.” Fixed now, commenting is re-enabled. Also adding some of the collateral from the news conference – first, here is a city graphic of how trash collection will unfold over the next few days – click it for the full-size version:

We also are processing our video – look for a separate wrapup post with that – first, here’s the full text of the news release (not linked online so we’re cutting and pasting from what we got in e-mail):

Mayor amends city’s snow removal practice, adds crews to clean-up

SEATTLE – Mayor Greg Nickels announced today that additional private
contractors will be hired to speed clean-up of city streets sanded
during the winter storm. In addition, Nickels ordered the Seattle
Department of Transportation to amend its practice regarding the use of
salt on city streets and to improve coordination with King County

In future storms, SDOT will continue to use liquid de-icer but will
spread salt under the following emergency conditions:

●if 4 inches or more of snow are predicted
●if ice is predicted
●if extreme cold is predicted to last longer than 3 days
●on hills, arterials, and designated snow bus routes
●on routes to hospitals and other emergency facilities indicated by
Fire and Police
●on other facilities as dictated by the professional judgment of the
Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Nickels also instructed all city departments involved with winter storm
operations – transportation, police, fire, human services, City Light,
and Seattle Public Utilities – to review their performance and make
policy recommendations by Jan. 30.

“This once-in-a-decade storm presented tough challenges for all our
city services,” said Nickels. “While our crews performed well, we
want to make sure we’re using best practices. I’m confident this
amendment to how SDOT uses salt will help in the worst situations while
making sure our lakes and rivers don’t suffer during routine

Deploying crews 24-hours a day for 14 days, SDOT achieved its goal of
maintaining passable conditions on all of the city’s primary and
secondary arterials, bridges and streets leading to hospitals.

Since 1998, SDOT had adopted a practice of avoiding direct use of salt
to melt snow and ice. Salt is well-documented to cause corrosion and
adversely impact fresh-water marine ecosystems. SDOT currently uses
Geomelt de-icer, which only contains a small element of salt. This has
proven effective in normal weather patterns of trace to 4 inches of snow
lasting 1-3 days.

The recent storm lasted 13 days and brought a continuous 2-8 inches of
snow every other day. The December 2008 series of storms left snow on
the ground far longer than any other occasion in the last 20 years – in
fact, nearly twice as long. Boeing Field had snow on the ground for 357
consecutive hours (almost 15 days). The runner-up was January 2004 at
187 hours (not quite 8 days).

The maximum accumulation this month was 11.3 inches. In the last 20
years, only the December 1996 storms accumulated more (17.9 inches), and
that snow was gone in about 6 days.

Ice built up in most parts of the city, and the recurring snow forced
SDOT crews to rework the primary routes, making it difficult to move on
to the secondary routes.

SDOT’s amended salt practice will provide greater flexibility in
extreme situations while maintaining the city’s environmental
commitments, said Nickels.

As part of the city’s annual storm preparedness, SDOT meets with King
County Metro and other partners to ensure a coordinated response to
winter weather. Following the most recent storm, SDOT and Metro agreed
that during periods of winter weather, Metro will assign a staff liaison
to SDOT’s operations office at Charles Street to provide SDOT with
timely information.

Five SDOT street sweepers are already dispatched to neighborhoods
across the city to clean up sand, working from 10 pm to 5 am. Nickels
will seek an authorization of $230,000 from the city’s Emergency Fund
to pay for two additional private street sweepers. The crews will begin

30 Replies to "Mayor's post-storm briefing: Salt policy changing; trash rebates"

  • Scott December 31, 2008 (11:22 am)

    2+ weeks later is not ‘adaptive’, this should have been abundantly obvious to anyone paying attention weeks ago on the use of contractors to assist in clearing streets of snow and the extreme conditions requiring the use of salt to make our roads passable.
    The wooden-nickels office should be reading this blog if he’s unable to get a clue on what to do in a more timely manner!
    What would wooden-nickel do in the event of a real disaster; earthquake for example? Hopefully we won’t have a big/devastating earthquake, and hopefully we won’t have to wait 2+ weeks for a decision on how to make the city livable again!

  • thee December 31, 2008 (11:22 am)

    reminder: he gave himself a “B”.

    yep, it’s still funny!

  • Max December 31, 2008 (11:29 am)

    Wow, the mayor agreeing using salt and the governor talking about a tunnel option for SR-99, it’s almost like we live in city where our votes and voices count. :-P

  • ML December 31, 2008 (11:29 am)

    I still give Mayor Half-Dime a big fat “F”! For FAIL!!

  • k December 31, 2008 (11:31 am)

    What were the maps about? Does this mean we will get garbage picked up on Saturday of this week? (that’s where our house is on the map…)

  • WSB December 31, 2008 (11:33 am)

    Thee – he was asked repeatedly if he’d rethink the “B.” He said he really MEANT, when he said it on Christmas Eve, that the people who work for the city deserve a B, and wouldn’t rethink it for the overall response.

  • AG December 31, 2008 (11:33 am)

    The Mayor didn’t give himself a B, he gave the City crews who worked around the clock a B for their efforts working with the resources they had. Why don’t you all stop complaining and grab a shovel next time?

  • The Dexter December 31, 2008 (11:34 am)

    Why doesn’t anyone recognize how salt is going to corrode the undercarriage of vehicles? Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Car prices are too high in Seattle anyway. Let’s just hope the city won’t have to replace buses every three years now that salt is the new toy.

  • JEM December 31, 2008 (12:31 pm)

    I think it is time we all just let it go. The snow is gone. Everyone did their best, believe it or not. Life goes on. And I really don’t care if we use salt in the future or not. In the ten years I’ve lived here we have never had a snow storm of this magnitude and guess what…we made it! And no, I did not drive in it and yes, I did wait forever for a bus and had to use 2 vacation days when I couldn’t make it to work but DEAL WITH IT PEOPLE. Let’s start the new year off by being thankful for what we do have. I am thankful that I was able to get rid of some cumbersome items that don’t fit in my trash can because I got to put out extra trash! See how easy it is to look on the bright side?

  • WSB December 31, 2008 (12:34 pm)

    To some degree, that was the theme both from the mayor and also from SDOT director Grace Crunican (who also lives in WS fwiw) – “keep in mind, nobody died, the bridge stayed open, etc.” However, what many have expressed is that it’s not even so much the specifics of this situation or this type of situation, as whether this was an indicator of how the city might respond to a LARGER disaster – can they change their plan when circumstances turn out to be different from what was planned for or expected – can they turn on a dime to make important changes. That’s the one question I managed to get in, what would be different next time regarding, for example, calling in private contractors sooner. Didn’t get a good answer except that the mayor will expect to see that kind of assessment in the report he gets from SDOT (and other departments/agencies) by month’s end – TR

  • andrea December 31, 2008 (1:12 pm)

    I like your way of thinking JEM! I too am thankful it’s over…it was fun while it lasted, and now we can move on.

  • GenHillOne December 31, 2008 (1:12 pm)

    If you are of the belief that everyone needs to “get over it” then don’t read the comments and keep it to yourself. The big question this left with me is that I’m not sure Seattle can handle something more serious. And I’m tired of hearing the self-rightousness of those that were able to handle the storm better than others. There are tons of our neighbors that will be feeling the effects of lost pay alone, perhaps already just barely getting by. To dismiss them is callous and ignorant. Please take a minute to think outside of your immediate surroundings.

  • Preggo December 31, 2008 (1:14 pm)

    WSB, thank you so much for being there and for providing us with these details. Also for asking about the litmus test situation of a larger disaster, something I have been thinking much about. Your work through all of this is much appreciated! Also it’s great to read everyone’s stance on the entire situation, whether we agree or not. It’s so important to be able to express one’s point of view, and you have provided a venue for much thought-provoking discussion.

  • GenHillOne December 31, 2008 (1:39 pm)

    I want to add that my comments above are not directed to the posters here in particular so it isn’t my intent to single them out. A lot of folks, both on the homepage and in forums, have expressed that they think everyone should move on. For many, we are blessed to do so, but I feel compelled to look through a different lens at what might be left in the wake.

  • Molly December 31, 2008 (1:47 pm)

    I agree with Max. I am thrilled that Seattle will finally use salt for the roads and the tunnel option has been added back as a very possible Viaduct replacement. I grew up in rural Maryland in a town of 10,000 and we had 1-3 decent (1-3″) every winter. Most of these were in the 1″ category with a good storm every 5 years or so. We used salt. It didn’t cause our cars to rust early. That’s only true if you use it all winter long (like Maine). And it was a very rural and poor county, but we could afford salt and snow plows. I’m glad Seattle is finally starting to pay attention to infrastructure. It’s about time.

  • JimmyG December 31, 2008 (1:57 pm)

    I’m of the get over it and move on mentality.

    If anyone thinks the city, county or state will be able to help you after the big earthquake you are living in a dream world. There priorities will be much larger than a persons ability to get to work, catch a bus, or collect garbage on time.

    Heed the gov’t when they say you should be prepared to be on your own for 3 days after a disaster and double or triple that length of time.

    For those grousing about what happened during this weather event, you do realize this wasn’t a true natural disaster, don’t you? So if you struggled to provide for yourself and your family during this time, take some steps now to change your preparedness level.

  • WSB December 31, 2008 (2:09 pm)

    To that end, you also will be hearing more from volunteers who’ve been working all year (and long before) on neighborhood preparedness. One big focus we reported on, repeatedly, earlier this year was the establishment of neighborhood gathering places so that in case of a true disaster, you’d know where to go to meet up with other neighbors who would be gathering and sharing information. Cindi Barker, who I accompanied to Councilmember Conlin’s office yesterday, is one of the ringleaders on this, and part of what is being advanced on that front is … yes, we know that in case of BIG stuff we’re going to fend for ourselves, but in times of not-so-big stuff, as well as the big, please work on sharing more informational specifics … Anyway, absolutely agree on the bottom-line preparedness. And by the way, as I just noted via Twitter, Cliff Mass isn’t so worried about wind later this week … but there MAY just MAY just MAY be some more snow on Friday …

  • KatHP December 31, 2008 (2:22 pm)

    k – to address your question about the maps shown on the photo of this story entry… I found these maps at the SPU site. If it looks as it appears, there will be no catch-up pick-ups in the West Seattle area at all on Friday. The Saturday map however, shows catch-up pick-ups on the east half of West Seattle.
    Friday collection area is shown:
    Saturday collection area is shown:

  • Bogie December 31, 2008 (2:28 pm)

    I would like to get over it and move on, but I am still dealing with the trash piling up in my house, blowing around my neighborhood and being scattered by animals. I’d say I am on the understand side of the fence, but my street has been clear for over a week now and I still have 3 days to wait until my trash is picked up.

  • WSB December 31, 2008 (2:31 pm)

    The maps may be more confusing than helpful. Here’s what we have been reporting for the past several days and what SPU has been explaining repeatedly this week:
    —-Thursday is a catchup day for missed people Mon-Wed. Crews would not normally work New Year’s Day, but they have set this time to catch up.
    —-Friday is when they are picking up people who would usually get Thursday pickup.
    —-Saturday is when they are picking up people who would usually get Friday pickup. That has nothing to do with the storm leftovers, that has to do with PREVIOUSLY PLANNED holidays. It was supposed to be the same thing last week (Thurs customers on Fri, Fri customers on Sat, because of Christmas), but because of lingering snow and ice, nobody got picked up.

  • KatHP December 31, 2008 (2:42 pm)

    Oh good grief. I can’t believe how complicated and ridiculous this has become. Arghghgh! Screw it – I’ll just leave out the garbage *now* in order to not miss a pick-up and just brace myself for the nasty sight of half our garbage spread over our driveway and street by the $%%!@! squirrels.

    Down! With! Squirrels!

    I seriously need a vacation.

  • ML December 31, 2008 (2:43 pm)

    Hey AG – I did in fact pick up a shovel. Thanks for the tip!

  • km December 31, 2008 (2:56 pm)

    GenHillOne – Thank you for your comments!! That has been something on my mind as well.

  • Lisa December 31, 2008 (3:02 pm)

    I’m with you Bogie; the storm is over let’s move on and PICK UP THE GARBAGE! I’m a Friday pickup, which they said would be picked up last Saturday and didn’t happen. Us “Friday Pickups” are the last ones in the City of Seattle to get service and it is getting bad.

  • Diane December 31, 2008 (3:09 pm)

    thanks GenHillOne
    I don’t really care about the garbage, even though ours has still NOT been picked up; overflowing with trash from 22 apts for 3 weeks
    but I would sure love to be reimbursed by the city for the week of income I lost because city streets were NOT passable, so buses never arrived to get me to work
    and my paycheck from the previous week never arrived via usps, so I had no money for food; which I would have had to hike a mile in snow storms to buy, if I had some money
    watching that news conference was maddening; I loved the question about “where was the leadership”; though his answer was lousy
    did you see him perk up all smiles when someone got in a question distracting from the urgent snowstorm topic, to ask about some damn sports at the Key arena
    I cannot believe I ever voted for this guy
    please, we need a smart, visionary leader in Seattle

  • Huindekmi December 31, 2008 (3:54 pm)

    Trash, recycling and yard waste collection are supposed to be back to the normal schedule starting Monday.
    This week would normally have been yard waste, but the city focused on getting trash and recycling picked up.
    Next week, will it be recycling again (on the normal schedule) or yard waste (realigning the 2-week schedule based on the last collections)?
    I still need both collected, since they didn’t take the recycling overflow and the bin is full again. I just want to know what to put out on the curb come Monday.
    If it is recycling again, we will have gone over a month without yard waste collection.

  • Mike December 31, 2008 (4:03 pm)

    I grew up in West Seattle, and weathered the big storm in 96. I live in Stanwood- where we got much more snow and ice than my folks did in WS. I was able to drive to work in Bellevue ( 52 mi each way- during the storm. Does Snohomish county have better plows- Heck Yes. The huge snow fall was moved out of the way- and we moved around.

    I am so glad I don’t live in Seattle anymore- Mayor Nickles is a idiot- and you people voted for him. You got what you voted for- so you can only complain about your choice. Salt the roads when they get icy- the salt will wash away ( Seattle is the Rainy City !!!)

    And one last note- Go Rat City Rollers- Roller Derby in Key Arena- Sure beats a bunch of whiney Basketball owners .

  • JoB December 31, 2008 (4:17 pm)

    We were lucky… although it was unpleasant at times, we were only inconvenienced by the storm.

    the worst of it for us was that we spent vacation days we meant to spend vacationing housebound and hubby spent a lot of time standing around in the cold waiting for buses.

    Others weren’t so lucky… for many people this was an unpaid, unplanned “vacation”…

    that also included job loss for some of those who couldn’t get to work even after hiking miles to buses that were supposed to be operational.

    For many businesses, this snow storm was the kiss of death… they won’t be able to make up the lost revenue from that week. for their employees this will mean the loss of a job.

    No, the storm couldn’t have been prevented. but snow route bus routes could have been plowed and salted so the buses kept running.. and all non-articulated buses could have been put on those routes so that those who needed to get to jobs could.

    Those routes could have been used by cars as well as buses… which would have ensured movement along selected arterial routes.

    Operational public transit could/would free the roads for those who could/would drive.

    and while house to house garbage collection would have been nearly impossible in a storm like this one.. temporary collections sites could have been established and serviced the same way commercial collection was handled.

    Once collection was resumed, robocalls could have notified homeowners when their home trash collection would resume. After all, our phone numbers are readily available through the city billing system.

    Somewhere in that same billing system is a list of elderly and/or disbaled who could have been called to see if they needed referral to other services…

    There is a lot that could have been done to the improve performance of our city services during this storm.

    “Quit your bitchin” won’t ensure that the kind of changes that will keep the city as functional as it can be when something like this happens again will be made.

    The attitude that it will all work out somehow is what stranded people in their homes and cost many income they can’t afford to lose and can’t replace.

    Will you tell those people to just buck up when it is so easy to do something that will change the outcome next time?

  • Heather Bakstad January 1, 2009 (6:24 am)

    We didn’t get our garbage picked up for three, count them 3 weeks!!!

  • Jill January 1, 2009 (9:45 am)

    The Dexter, no one is bothering to recognize the damage salt will do because it’s easier to whine about how put-upon they are, and a downside to their magic solution isn’t what they want to hear. GenHillOne, JoB, there’s a difference between bitchin’ being whining about how you’re so inconvenienced in an exceptional situation for a few days, thinking that the city screwed you personally, and bitchin’ in a way that says “yes this was legitimately hard for a lot of people, these are the things that went wrong and here are the ways we could’ve/can avoid/prepare for them.” The former variety went way beyond a bit of venting on the forums. JoB, I wish more people (including me) could bitch the way you do.

Sorry, comment time is over.