It’s 2 p.m. on a Friday and most people are checking the clock on their cellphones, hoping to get out of work on time and enjoy the weekend.

Jordan Public Works Director Scott Haas is looking at his phone, too. But he isn’t counting down the hours until he leaves work. He’s checking a weather app, tracking a storm that is expected to dump half a foot of snow on Jordan the following day — a storm that might require him and his team to wake up at 3 a.m., drive to the town garage and start plowing the streets of Jordan.

This is typical winter work day for Haas.

“Most of the time we try to start around 4 o’clock in the morning, depending upon the snowfall,” Haas said. “The day before we always make sure the trucks are loaded with salt and have all our liquid systems working. We go through all our trucks, go through all the plows and grease everything, make sure everything is ready to go. Getting the game plan is the hard part because you never know what Mother Nature is going to do.”

And this winter Mother Nature was particularly brutal. February alone saw 39 inches of snowfall in the Twin Cities, making it the snowiest February on record for the region. At the end of the month, the National Weather Service ranked this winter as Minnesota’s seventh snowiest winter of all time, with 52.5 total inches of snowfall between December and February.

The winter took a particularly hard toll on the Jordan Public Works Department, which is tasked with keeping city roads clear of snow and ice.

“In February it snowed every other day, so all of a sudden you wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning because your body gets used to that, even when you don’t have to,” Haas said. “It was a tough month. Usually from the middle of November to around mid-March I wake up a lot during the night just because I’m the guy in charge. I’ll constantly look or if I hear a county plow I think I missed something. It’s a little bit stressful, but it’s part of the job and I understand that — I’m not complaining, I love doing it.”

Haas has been with the department for nearly nine years. Since he was promoted to department head in 2014, one of his top priorities has been to reduce the amount of salt the department uses to clear ice off roads in the winter. The first year Haas took over he ordered 500 tons of salt.

“The year before we ordered more than 600 tons of salt,” he said.

In the years since his promotion, Haas has reduced the city’s annual salt purchase by 400 tons.

“We plow different,” Haas said. “We used to plow all the roads every single time it snowed. If there were two inches of snow, we plowed it all and we salted it all, even if it was still snowing. Then we’d do it again. I’m not saying its a bad thing — that’s how it worked.”

Haas largely attributes the drastic salt reduction to switching from solid salt pellets to a liquid brine solution. Not only is the brine more effective, he said, it also prevents plow drivers from over-salting a road.

“The liquid part of it saves a lot of salt because you see it working,” Haas said. “If you see something working, you won’t do it again. If you drive over that road without the liquid and you throw the salt down, and you don’t see it physically doing something, you go and throw more salt down. But with the liquid, it activates the salt before it even hits the ground; the salt pellets are wet and it’s starting to eat the water. If you go through now you see it working and you know you don’t have to put salt there again.”

Since 2015, Haas has ordered 200 tons of salt each year. This year, however, they’ll dip into reserves and possibly use up to 220 tons.

“I’m going to go over my 200 tons, but we’ve had an extraordinary winter, so we’re still going good,” Haas said.

By using 600 tons less salt each year, Haas has lightened the department budget and lessened the city’s impact on the environment. When Haas first suggested using a liquid brine solution, the city, despite the clear benefits, wanted to be sure the brine would be a worthwhile investment. As a trial, Haas built his own liquid salt brine rig to prove the system could be an improvement for the city.

“I took an old farm sprayer I bought from an equipment dealer,” Haas said. “I had some old tanks laying here and I basically made my own salt brine maker because I wanted to try this.”

Haas ended up using the farm sprayer prototype for two years before purchasing a manufactured system. When he did shop around, Haas was disappointed to find that it would cost between $2,000-$5,000 to rig the city’s plow trucks with tanks and pumps for the brine solution.

So he took matters into his own hands.

“I thought that was too much to start so I built my own,” Haas said. “I had a place bend some brackets, bought some cheap tanks, we tried a few different things and now I don’t think I have $1,000 stuck into both trucks. It’s still working now.”

City officials were quick to notice the benefit of the salt brine technique. The plow truck the city recently purchased includes a fully-operational liquid salt pump system that is controlled by an in-cab computer. The other trucks still rely on Haas’ homemade, but reliable, liquid salt pumps.

In the future, Haas hopes to add another professional pump to the fleet when the city purchases a new truck to replace their oldest rig, a 1990 plow truck that is nearing retirement-age. But in the meantime, the numbers show that Haas’ handcrafted pumps appear to be doing the job just fine.

“It was a challenge for me to see how far I could get down with our salt use,” Haas said. “I felt when I first started here we used too much, and maybe now some people think I don’t use enough, but I do what I think I need to keep everybody safe and moving around.”

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