EMU Physical Plant prepares for a harsh winter

Winter has come to Eastern Michigan University, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac indicates that we have another frigid, snowy winter ahead of us this year.

Dieter Otto, a director at EMU’s Physical Plant, has the job of making sure the campus walkways and roads are cleared of snow.

EMU’s main campus is about 800 acres. The Physical plant clears the sidewalks, but depending on the type of snow, wind conditions, temperature and time of day and campus activity the physical plant can change tactics by the day or hour.

Otto said the plant can have much more flexibility in snow removal because it does not have a set pattern and schedule.

WXYZ reported an official 94.8-inch snowfall in the 2013-14 winter in Metro Detroit last April. That is over an inch more than the previous 1880-81 record, making last year’s winter the snowiest since records began.

For this year, Otto said they hired two snow removal contractors instead of one.

This year, the physical plant ordered 1200 tons of salt at about $50 a ton. The physical plant has to place its salt order with the state department of transportation in February for the following year.

“We’re allowed 130 percent purchase at our price,” Otto said. “You have to purchase 70 percent no matter what. If it stopped snowing tomorrow I would still have to purchase 70 percent.”

The university primarily uses rock salt but still has some of the beat-based, greener alternative from last year, which will be used up. The disadvantage of rock salt is that it loses its effectiveness bellow about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Otto said when the temperature is below 15 degrees the physical plant can only do so much to remove the ice. The beat juice-based deicer can still work at very low temperatures and the runoff is less detrimental to the water table. The beat juice is less harmful to the grass running along the sidewalks, which is often killed from traditional salt remover.

“We’ve had a conscious effort to reduce the overall salt usage on campus, not just from an economic perspective but also from an environmental perspective,” Otto said. “That's one of the reasons why we started using the beat juice because we can treat certain areas on campus.”

While it is too expensive to forgo using salt entirely, Otto said he is confident that he can mitigate, or at least lessen, the smell that students complained about last year.

According to the university’s Extreme Weather Policy, the decision on whether or not to close campus due to the weather falls on the President and the Provost.

The decision to close campus before 12:30 p.m. has to be made by 6 a.m., the decision to close 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. has to be made by 9:30 a.m. and the decision on whether or not to close after 5 p.m. has to be made by 3 p.m.

Temperatures, snowfall, wind and how the general region is faring will factor into these decisions.

Campus might be clear, for example, but if enough EMU students live far enough away and it is too dangerous, the university might still decide to close. You can find the policy online at emich.edu/univcomm/closureinfo/emuclosings.

If you have questions concerning snow removal or wish to know when routes around campus will be plowed, you can call the Physical Department at (734)-487-3591.

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