The price of salt

A blizzard of calcium chloride

No NYC mayor wants to be caught off-guard by a snowstorm.

In 1969, Mayor John Lindsay was famously unprepared for a blizzard that killed 42 people, half of whom lived in Queens. That borough was stranded under 20 inches of snow without adequate plowing for nearly a week, and when Lindsay went to reassure residents, they openly booed him. The storm became known as “the Lindsay Snowstorm,” and cost him the Republican primary in the next mayoral election, though he ended up switching to an Independent ticket and eking out a victory anyway.

In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg was slammed for sunning in Bermuda during the start of a December storm that shut the city down for days. And of course, De Blasio has his own botched blizzard responses, from being accused of spitefully neglecting the Upper East Side during a 2014 storm, to a mere 6-inch snowfall in 2018 that left thousands stranded at Port Authority.

Every snowstorm blunder is a reminder for future city leadership that when it comes to winter weather, it’s better to overprepare. And that means road salt—lots and lots of salt. According to Columbia University’s Earth Institute, from 2016-2018, the city’s Department of Sanitation used an average of 407,884 tons of salt per winter, or roughly 95 pounds for every New Yorker. That shakes out to a removal cost of roughly $1.8 million per inch of snow.

This salt is shipped mostly from Chile and Argentina to the Atlantic Salt Incorporated Docks, on Staten Island. From there, it’s distributed among the city’s 40 salt sheds. The newest, the $21 million Spring Street Salt Shed in Tribeca, opened in 2016 and was acclaimed for its design (inspired, naturally, by a salt crystal).

But salt does much more than melt ice. It seeps into our soil and waterways, speeding up erosion and killing river fish and plants. And these mountains of salt, stored across the city, can even cause storms of their own. For years, residents in Brooklyn’s Columbia Street Waterfront District dealt with salt blowing from exposed piles in the Red Hook container terminal.

“I was pelted with salt. It was blowing around everywhere,” one resident told The Brooklyn Paper in 2009 after a loose tarp unleashed a salt storm. After another salt squall in 2011, a local noticed that her front door wasn’t working. “Something about the salt affects the locks,” she told the paper, adding: “It definitely leaves a taste in your mouth.”

Say what?

“When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts…Because I don’t. Because I don’t.” —The man who underreported nursing home deaths by 50 percent, is encouraging people to eat indoors on Valentine’s Day, and has already published a book titled American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Around town…

-New Yorkers practiced proper “owl etiquette” while observing the sexy snowy owl in Central Park last week, the first documented sighting of the species since 1890. (WSJ)

-A barge carrying more than 800 tons of toxic sludge from the Gowanus Canal sank in the Gowanus Bay, off the coast of Sunset Park. (Brooklyn Paper)

-Last week was also a good one for food labor: workers at the Bronx’s Hunts Point Produce Market, the largest wholesale produce market in America, won a raise after a week-long strike, and City Council voted to create 4,000 street vendor permits over the next decade. (Gothamist, Eater NY)

-Why does Brooklyn have so many fractional addresses and streets with the same name? (Hints: explosive 19th-century growth, bureacracy, corruption). I’d love one of these explainers for Queens. (NY Times)

Happy Groundhog Day Eve! #neverforget