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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

December 24, 2008 at 12:10 PM

No salt for Seattle

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Courtney Blethen/ The Seattle Times

Pedestrians take over Denny Street on Capitol Hill. The street has been closed to vehicles all week due to dangerous snowy and icy conditions.

What’s a few kids?

Editor, The Times:

I’m a little tired of all of the letters scolding Mayor Greg Nickels for not putting salt on the road during this severe weather [“Seattle refuses to use salt; roads ‘snow packed’ by design,” Times, News, Dec. 23].

So a few buses filled with kids might go off a bridge.

Don’t people realize that the salt on the roads might get into Puget Sound and pollute the saltwater with salt?

I drove in severe weather for most of my adult life in Alaska before I moved here. The mayor is teaching these city folks how to be independent and protect the environment at the same time. No salt on the roads means no salt polluting our green parks and being ingested by the helpless birds and fishes in our local area.

Nothing could make a granola-eating tree-hugger like me happier.

If I need traction I always keep a couple of dead spotted owls in my trunk. You just throw them under the tires when you get stuck. Nothing gets better traction than a spotted owl, not even chains.

— Dennis Doucette, Auburn

SUVs make a comeback

I just wanted to thank the Seattle government for their stand on not using salt on the roads during this terrible snowstorm. It is absolutely awful to think that salty runoff could possibly make its way to the Puget Sound, which last I checked was comprised of saltwater.

But, honestly, Seattle’s use of sand instead of salt cleared the roads of all traffic, allowing my 6,000 pound, 15 mpg, 4-wheel-drive truck traffic-less transportation for a solid four days.

Finally, my tax dollars hard at work to relieve congestion.

In addition, I am glad that Seattle has finally put its foot down and decided full-heartedly to support the promotion of oversized, overweighted gas hogs.

— John Foster, Bothell

I don’t get it

The Times revealed that Seattle is not salting our icy and dangerous streets for fear that the salt will ultimately leach into Puget Sound. Isn’t the sound already a saltwater body of water. Am I missing something?

— Martin Paup, Seattle

The benefit is greater

The first question to be asked about the decision not to use salt on the roads it simple: Did anyone determine the amount of salt to be used would be sufficient to have any measurable environmental effect on Puget Sound?

Puget Sound is large and deep, with strong tides assuring rapid mixing. Was there any calculation of salt concentration of runoff water showing a higher concentration than that of the Sound?

Road salt contains calcium, which is also a component of seawater, integral to the formation of crustacean shells. Road salt is mildly corrosive, but as snow is rare here, it will quickly be washed away from cars and structures once typical rains resume.

Salt has long been routinely used for melting. Whatever problems, it has been almost universally concluded that the benefit is greater.

The consequences are not trivial and are beyond the obvious impassibility of streets and unnecessary property damage. People are missing work and income. This past week is crucial for many retailers and the lost business causes genuine hardship to both business and employees. Can anyone in City Hall show evidence of equal benefit from this absurdity?

— Bronston Kenney, Shoreline

Sidewalks are for people, not snow

Tuesday’s story about the messy condition of Seattle’s roadways overlooks the condition of the sidewalks.

I have it on the authority of the chairman of the City Council, Richard Conlin, that there is a code requirement that sidewalks be cleared of snow by property owners, who otherwise can be fined.

However, the requirement is ignored by many property owners with impunity.

— Anita Warmflash, Seattle

Blatant disregard

The complete inattention and indifference that the cities of Olympia and Lacey have shown toward the enabling of transportation around the city streets during this freak snowstorm is utterly unbelievable.

No roads have been scraped, people are ruining their bodies and vehicles trying to drive on clots of snow and ice mixed with slush that are six or more inches deep.

Driving on these roads is like driving on the rocky bottoms of river beds. Do you know we have had no trash pick up?

What about the fact that this is an emergency? What about renting backhoes and tractors and clearing the ice-rocks from the city and neighborhood streets?

What about asking the neighboring cities for help?

Why is it OK to just wait until it warms up? I am reminded of the tales of governmental disregard in New Orleans during/after the flooding of Hurricane Katrina.

What about people who need an ambulance? What about the large elderly population in Olympia? Why is it acceptable to make them navigate river-rock roads?

Never have I seen such an inept, blatant disregard for citizens and their well-being.

— Carolyn Foster, Lacey

Never again

The abominable response by the city of Seattle to this winter’s unusual storm is about as responsible as the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Not only is it foolish and inept, it’s arrogant.

Those of us who’ve lived other places where snow and ice are handled competently have been appalled by the manner in which a major U.S. city has been paralyzed for a week because of Mayor Greg Nickels’ ridiculous attitude about possible solutions.

This is not to say that we are not concerned about environmental matters. But Seattle’s knee-jerk response has been way out of balance considering the situation.

Since these storms do not happen often here, let’s try something different. Let’s say for the first week of a major storm like this one, we can use salt for the roads and we can use decent blades on the plows — blades that will actually clear the roadway.

That won’t be enough to do any significant harm to the environment and it won’t cause rust on our cars. After that, we go back to the current methods.

But we never again leave the city in the paralysis in which it’s been this past week.

— Molly Cook, Langley

Do more than this

If it’s economics, say so.

If it’s poor emergency management, apologize, but don’t pull the “green card” with total disregard for public safety.

“By design,” two charter buses narrowly escape a crash onto Interstate 5. Vehicles spin out, businesses are temporarily shut down. Hundreds of cars sit idling in snarled traffic.

The storms crippled the entire region. Where are the state Department of Transportation snowplows?

Thanks to city and county employees for their hard work under challenging conditions. But this was not an unexpected storm.

We shouldn’t see young soldiers stuck at the bus station, or a mother and her children sleeping on the floor at Sea-Tac Airport for days. Airlines had no choice but to cancel flights when they couldn’t get new supplies of de-icing material delivered. What a blow to their financial stability in these times.

The mess in Seattle can’t be “by design.” Alex Wiggins [chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation], please say you did all you could do.

— Anne Varga, North Bend

Let’s get salty

I’m all for not dumping toxic crud into Puget Sound, so as not to screw up the lives of salmon, clams, orcas and so forth. But Seattle’s policy of just packing down the snow on city streets into ice confines the city’s human folks to their caves until the weather seriously warms up.

How about using sea salt on Seattle streets? It would make Puget Sound a few hundredths of a percent more salty.

— Chuck Hastings, Federal Way

Take the hint

I ventured into Seattle [Tuesday] for a business meeting and sought to escape at 2 p.m. via Mercer Street to the freeway. I have never seen a street in worse condition. It literally felt like moving east in a boat.

Drops off ice mounds in some case were 8 to 10 inches.

I’d say a better plan is warranted for clearing Seattle’s streets.

I drove home to Lynnwood, and there was ice here and there, but on the major arterials there was pavement under the tires. Is the region’s premier city clueless or just poorly led?

— Bill Kirlin-Hackett, Lynnwood

Do more research

I am disappointed at Susan Kelleher’s investigative reporting concerning Seattle’s refusal to use salt on its roads. Kelleher fails to describe fully the principles, conversations and reasons that begot Seattle’s current policy.

Moreover, she primarily compares Seattle’s response to urban areas that are not near large, ecologically sensitive bodies of water. Those cities do not have to consider the impacts of salt on Puget Sound.

Denver’s complaint about sand causing problems is true for them; however, its impacts in Seattle may be different due to variances — for example, in municipal infrastructure and snow type. The use of salt and de-icer by WSDOT [Washington State Department of Transportation] does not baptize their effects in waterways.

To be sure, Seattle’s response to this snow has not been effective; policy changes must certainly arise. Nonetheless, rashly adopting a policy to use whatever chemical or salt “works” in the short-term would supplant a wiser principle of considering the long-term effects of everything we do.

— Daniel Escher, Bellingham

Comments | More in Public safety, Seattle, Seattle City Council

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