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Department Of Infrastructure Seeks Approval For 10 October 2012

The Department of Infrastructure will seek approval at the October sitting of Tynwald to construct a 5,000 tonne capacity Salt Barn at Balthane in Ballasalla. The barn will cost approximately £631,000. The proposal follows the severe winters in 2010 and 2011 when the Island was snowbound for many weeks. During these periods the Department put in place a 24-hour a day programme of gritting and snow clearance which severely tested its winter maintenance capabilities. In 2010 the Department came very close to running out of salt supplies before a delivery arrived from Northern Ireland; and in 2011 it was impossible to place new orders for delivery within a year because of the shortage of salt across the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, the Department was forced to take action to reduce the use of salt to prevent it running out. This included mixing the salt with sand, limiting supplies to businesses and using quarry dust directly onto the roads. Even so, supplies became severely restricted and had there been a further snowfall that winter, the Island would have run out of its strategic supply of salt and we would have resorted to only keeping the main highways into Douglas open.

‘In 2011 the Department of Infrastructure undertook a review of its winter maintenance capability.’ said Department of Infrastructure Minister, David Cretney MHK. ‘The review highlighted several areas of weakness within our capability and identified that the strategic salt holding should be increased from 5,000 tonnes to 10 – 12,000 tonnes. This would give the Department approximately 5 weeks supply in severe winter conditions. The winter weather, which was the worst experienced for over 30 years, highlighted that not only do snow conditions impact on the economy and smooth running of our Island, but it also puts at increased risk the already vulnerable members of our society who find themselves trapped and unable to get to shops for food supplies and to attend doctor and hospital appointments. ‘The Department’s review also highlighted that a change of policy was required in that the strategic salt stock held by the Department had been held for the exclusive use of the Department on the highways. However, it was quickly recognised during the prolonged winter periods that the Department actually held the strategic salt supply for the whole Island, not just the Department.’

If approved, the new Salt Barn at Balthane, which has already received Planning permission, will increase the stockholding on the Island to 10,000 tonnes of covered and dry stock. It will also provide a much needed southern stock that will improve the speed and efficiency of gritting in the south of the island. The review of winter maintenance capability also highlighted a number of other areas where improvements needed to be made. These included the provision of small-scale gritters able to access the Island’s estates as the large gritters in the fleet were too big to go between parked cars on most housing estates. Two new small gritters have now been purchased. The Department has also purchased a small quad bike for clearing and salting pavements on and around schools, but more importantly it will allow the transportation of salt to problem spots when traditional gritters and vehicles may be caught up in a gridlock, which happened in 2011. Finally, the Department has purchased over 70 hand-drawn gritters to allow Local Authorities to grit pavements in and around their local areas with any resource that they may have available. The units will allow for more efficient use of salting on the pavement than was experienced during the last cold snap.

The Minister continued

Although we may build this facility and not have a severe winter this year or next, the salt in it will not deteriorate or leach away as it would do if stored outside, and will be in the correct condition to be applied to the road efficiently when it is required. We have seen first hand the social and economic damage of a prolonged period of snow and it is right that we take action to limit this disruption. The possibility of the Island running out of salt stocks during a prolonged snow period should not be contemplated by a modern society such as ours.’

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