Public works is ready for winter

Even in the middle of August, when temperatures are running up to 90 degrees, Wilton’s Department of Public Works is ready for the next winter storm to hit town.

“We’re always prepared for anything,” director Tom Thurkettle said last week. “We buy our sand and salt in the summer, and start to get it delivered in August. We’ve always got a stockpile in the summer months.”

Though the exact mixture of salt and sand depends on the type of storm, salt is the most important commodity for keeping streets clean. As in the rest of southern Connecticut, most of Wilton’s roads involve steep inclines and declines that are made passable mostly by salt.

A normal winter’s worth of it runs the town around $190,000, while sand comes in around $60,000.

“We try and start the winter with all the material we need for winter operations, but the question remains, ‘How many times will we replenish it?’ We usually have enough sand to last the whole season, but salt is tougher. We always need more salt than sand,” Mr. Thurkettle said last week.

For example, the director said, Olmstead Hill Road is a notoriously steep and difficult road even on dry days. When it snows, residents will actually wait for DPW at the bottom of the hill, proceeding up only once salt has been laid down.

By Feb. 20 of last winter, Wilton had already been hit by 12 snowstorms and almost completely ran out of road cleaning supplies in March after distributors also began running out of product.

Such a winter, however, is unusual.

In total, it takes more than a dozen trucks about four hours to completely clear Wilton’s roads, though certain strong storms can cause problems for days at a time.

There are almost 20 “plow routes” in town that run about 10 miles each — plowing both directions means trucks have to travel double that length per leg. The northern section of town often takes the longest because trucks have to refill salt and sand supplies back in the center of town.