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City Council knows that the City needs to store and spread salt on the roads during snow events, but no one wants to see it. The current salt dome, the structure that houses about 2,500 tons of road salt, sits across from the City’s service center nestled in the “vee” formed by Green Bay and Ridge Avenue, safely out of sight. Made of concrete, it is old and leaky and awkwardly placed, said Suzette Robinson, the City’s director of public works. Council continues to struggle with a location for a new salt dome and came no closer to a decision at its May 16 meeting.

The City has long recognized the need for a new salt dome with a larger capacity – where to put it is the question. “The existing salt dome is more than 20 years old,” said Ms. Robinson. “[They] are concerned with its structural integrity,” she added, it has holes in it such that “it basically rains into the salt dome.”

The “capacity is lacking” as well, she said. The City would like to be able to store about 80 percent of its annual salt supply, to protect against price spikes and shortages. With usage figures between 6,000 and 8,000 tons annually, and “8 to 10,000 the past few years,” says Ms. Robinson, the City is seeking a dome with a 4,000-ton capacity.

The current location is simply not large enough for a larger salt dome, said Ms. Robinson. It barely fits right now, she said, and trucks struggle to maneuver in and out to deliver and distribute salt. Staff looked at different sizes, shapes and configurations to try and squeeze a larger dome in the current space “without any success,” she said.

The issue is not new. The City came to Council seeking guidance in April 2009; Northwestern contributed $100,000 to the City for a new salt dome about the same time. But NIMBY prevails.

On May 18, City staff proposed four possible locations: the north end of Northwestern’s Ryan Field parking lot; the former composting site in James Park; next to the sanitation canal at Ashland and Noyes; and again next to the canal at Church and McDaniel. Only James Park is owned by the City; the Ryan Field location would require an agreement with Northwestern, and the other two would require an agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD). The City has not approached either entity about this issue, so there is no way of knowing yet whether any other than the James Park site is a real possibility.

James Park has its own problems. Because the site is a former landfill, the soil is not currently stable enough to support a salt dome. Because of this, according to the staff report, the cost of a James Park salt dome would be in excess of $2 million. The other sites, again according to the report, would cost less than $1 million.

When faced with these choices on May 15, Council made a clear selection: none of the above. “I don’t like any of the locations in particular, because of visual impact,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. “All are very visible,” she added. Aldermen Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward, readily agreed. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said residents did not want it there. “I had lots of emails today,” she said, against it.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, proposed a different site – outside of Evanston. “It is in Skokie …” but owned by the MWRD, she said. Just west of the Jewel parking lot on Howard, it is one of the largest parking lots around, she said, and it would not affect the Vineyard Church much although it would be very close to their facility. Aldermen Wynne and Grover agreed.

Ms. Robinson said the City has looked at the site but traffic concerns caused them to reject it. “The salt trucks could not get out,” she said. Ald. Rainey suggested another look.

Ald. Wynne said that other North Shore communities manage to keep their salt domes hidden from public view. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, disagreed, pointing out that Winnetka has its salt dome “right out in the open, next to the hockey rink and golf course.”

Regardless, Council’s direction to staff was clear: Find a location not in Evanston and that people cannot see. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the City would come back to Council in several weeks with locations outside of Evanston. Once a location has been decided, the type of structure (a traditional, unattractive dome or a pricier, more attractive and more useful “gambrel style” barnlike structure) can be decided.

Also to be decided are the cost and contribution from Northwestern and the school districts, all of which also store salt in the City’s dome. Aldermen did approve the purchase of 7,000 tons of salt, laying in a supply for next year, regardless of where it will be stored.