With the heat of summer lingering and the brutal cold of winter still months away, 84-year-old Max Rabourn is fired up about the use of salt on county and city roads and will tell anyone about it — including elected officials.
Rabourn claims that using salt on the roads has done significant damage to his driveway, his garage floor, the yards, the streets, vehicles at his home on 4103 N. Fourth Ave. E. in Newton. He is also worried about salt potentially causing harm to the environment.
“You are ruining our property. Those houses on the south-side are $250,000 to $300,000, and paying about $4,000 a year (in property taxes) and you’re using that money against us,” Rabourn told the Jasper County Board of Supervisors last week.
While he may be the most vocal about the issue, Rabourn isn’t alone in his quest to rid salt from his neighborhood — 27 neighbors have signed his petition since Aug. 1. He has suggested both the county and city research some other methods to clear ice from the roads.
On Tuesday, he took his fight to the Newton City Council.
“You’ve got some awful mad people out there. Twenty-seven of us. Our yards are a mess. Our concrete is going to pot. It’s terrible,” Rabourn said. Instead of using salt, Rabourn would like to go back to using only sand.
Mayor Mike Hansen sympathized with Rabourn, saying that the salt also damaged his garage floor this past winter. He said that they are working on some alternatives but that sometimes when there is too much ice, salt is the best option.
In addition to the elected officials, Rabourn has been in contact with both the Jasper County Secondary Roads Department and Newton Public Works. Secondary Roads is in charge of salting and plowing county roads and NPW is responsible for the city’s.
Rabourn’s asking that both of those entities no longer use salt on streets from North Fourth Avenue East and East 31st Street North to Highway T12 and Halter Avenue, a stretch that includes both city and county roads.
“He (Jasper County Engineer Russ Stut) dumped enough salt and sand on that road last winter, as I told you. It’s like driving on the gravel road out to my farm,” Rabourn said.
Stutt oversees the Secondary Roads Department. Stutt said there are other options out there such as calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and beet juice, but feels using salt as the county is doing is just the current practice statewide.
“The Iowa Department of Transportation, all 99 counties in the state, and the vast majority of municipalities in Iowa, to my knowledge, use road salt. We mix our material at a ratio of 2 parts sand to 1 part salt,” Stutt said.
“I’ve heard of counties mixing it at ratios of 1 to 1 and also ratios of 3 or 4 parts sand to salt. There are municipalities don’t mix it at all and just use straight salt.”
As far as Rabourn’s claims of salt damaging vehicles, Stutt said he has heard of that happening.
“There are cities that buy colored salt because it is easier for the public to see that they have been treating the roads,” he said.
Rabourn has been researching other states that have stopped using road salt due to suspected environmental damage, however, Stutt said that he knows of no such cases happening in Iowa.
In May, the supervisors approved a contract with Independent Salt, based out of Kanapolis, Kan., to supply the county’s rock salt for the 2014-2015 winter season. Delivery is slated to begin this month and end in May 2015.
The county pays $73.63 per ton after agreeing to a minimum purchase of 1,500 tons. In the past, Stutt told the supervisors they’ve had a good working relationship with the company and that even during shortages, Independent kept the county supplied.
“We only use salt on hard surfaced roads. If it was applied to a granular surfaced roads it would attract moisture causing the road to become soft and lose its stability similar to areas where people apply dust control. Usage varies greatly from year to year and type of winter event or storm,” Stutt said.
After Rabourn’s comments, Joe Brock, supervisors chairman, said he and the other board members would speak with Stutt on the situation.
Despite that reassurance, Rabourn has made it clear that he won’t stop speaking out against the use of salt on county and city roads, especially in his neighborhood.
“What I don’t understand is that none of these people have thought about the repercussions from all of the salt usage when we don’t need it, “Rabourn said. “I’ve been driving these roads for the last 65 years. People say, ‘what are going to do (instead)?’ Well, go back to driving like we used to.”
In case his petition doesn’t work, Rabourn said he and his neighbors have a backup plan.
“I’ll tell you right now, if I don’t get them to stop up where I live, I’m going to sue them. Well, we are. There’s 27 of us out there and we’re sick of it,” Rabourn said.
— Staff Writer Jamee Pierson contributed to this report.
Contact Senior Staff Writer Ty Rushing at (641) 792-3121 ext. 6532 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.