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Erik Burgess, Published December 03 2013

Snow-melting machine on tap next winter in Fargo; Moorhead ready with 'reinforcements' for cul-de-sac clearing

FARGO – Snow may be here to stay, but Fargo city officials are already thinking about melting it away.

A snow-melting machine, which would greatly reduce the number of trucks needed to haul plowed snow out of the city’s more than 150 cul-de-sacs, will be ready to use next winter, said Ben Dow, Fargo Public Works director.

The city has been eyeing a snow-melting machine for a couple of years, but a $350,000 diesel-powered melter has been financially out of the question.

Dow said he budgeted to rent a machine this year, but because of order backlog, the city won’t be able to get one until next December.

It will cost about $70,000 to rent the machine for three months, and any money spent on renting could go toward an eventual purchase, Dow said.

Giant bath tubs

Think of the machines as being like giant, portable bath tubs, holding water at 80 to 100 degrees. Crews dump snow in, instead of hauling it away to a designated dump site, and the snowmelt is then poured into a storm sewer drain, Dow said. A waste bin in the machine collects any debris or trash.

The machine could cut the fleet of snow removal trucks needed after a 6-inch snowfall from 12 trucks to one.

Dow said he’s not sure if the city would purchase a machine after renting. While the machines are more common in the Twin Cities, the slightly colder temperatures in Fargo mean the melters have to work harder to function.

“It’s hard to find a spot as cold as we are that’s using these things,” he said.

While hauling snow out of the city’s many cul-de-sacs is an issue, Dow said the machines could also help plow out downtown. The city may soon lose its snow-piling location on Second Street North, near the Red River.

“There’s probably going to be a floodwall there,” Dow said. “So, that’s going to cut off that snow storage spot potentially, and we’re going to be taxed with finding an alternative solution.”

Dow said there are a few vendors that sell the machines, and the city will bid out a request for proposal to find the best option for the rental.

Calling in help

In Moorhead, two contractors are ready “at the drop of a hat” to help clear snow from the city’s 210 cul-de-sacs, said Randy Affield, street, sanitation and fleet division manager.

Moorhead called in two contractors in February to help clear cul-de-sacs after residents complained about slow response time from the city’s plow fleet after heavy snowstorms.

Affield said lining up the contracted crews this early in the season means the city will be more prepared this winter.

“Whenever we get enough snow that the city forces won’t be able to keep up with a timely cleanup, we’ll call in reinforcements,” Affield said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518