This winter’s unusual snowstorms, which repeatedly led city officials to tell drivers to stay off the roads, have put Portlanders in challenging situations, and that long list includes restaurateurs and their employees. Many restaurants have reported significant financial losses, and likewise, when restaurants close, non-salaried staff lose a day (or days) of income.
Snow in Portland is different from other cities, because Portland often experiences winters with little to no snow, which in turn, typically warrants maintaining a small number of snowplows and other maintenance equipment.
Eater reached out to City of Portland commissioner Dan Saltzman, who took on the challenging job of overseeing the city’s Bureau of Transportation just two weeks ago, to see whether salting the roads really could be the simple solution it seems.
“We're looking at that very question as we speak,” says Saltzman. “Seattle is good enough to loan us some snowplow crews, and they brought salt with them, so we’re testing it out on various streets to see how it compares with the de-icing chloride we use now. It’s not going to be something that’s decided in the next week, and we want to take an honest evaluation of its possible use in the future.”
Regarding the potential financial burdens posed by salt, Saltzman says he hasn’t identified them, yet, but those factors are more likely to be related to storage than buying new vehicles: The snowplows owned by the City that dispense gravel on roadways can also dispense salt.
The City also holds the position that using salt could cause environmental harm to Portland’s many waterways. When asked what research the City based this decision on, Saltzman admitted he hasn’t had time to review the research and did not point to a specific study. Saltzman did confirm the primary factors in the decision are cost and environmental impact — but also whether salt even works.
“Expectations around salt might be too high,” says Saltzman. “When I speak with the people on the street, the people driving the snowplows, they aren’t convinced.”
Using salt is just one of the methods the City is currently investigating to ease the financial burdens put on Portland businesses by snowstorms. It’s clear that something needs to be done.
“I know winter storms are a real impact on restaurants, from keeping customers to food deliveries from coming through the doors,” Saltzman tells Eater. “I just got off the phone with a restaurant owner, and I definitely am very sympathetic to the hard work the people in the restaurant industry are doing.”