Cloquet residents have been hearing the sound of snowplows lately from the wee hours of the morning into the evening, often followed by the big orange trucks filling the end of a freshly shoveled driveway with another pile of snow.

On the upside, the potholes are filled in and saving a little wear and tear on residents' vehicles.

Many towns employ their own road crew and plow trucks, like Cloquet, Moose Lake, Scanlon and Thompson Township. Carlton County crews clear county roads and 36 townships throughout the county.

The City of Cloquet uses about 500 tons of salt each winter, while Carlton County uses an average of 3,000 tons. Plow drivers clear about 80 miles of city streets in Cloquet, including portions of a few county roads such as County Road 3, also known as 14th Street in downtown Cloquet.

"We mix a brine solution each fall and add it to the sand," Cloquet Public Works Director Caleb Peterson explained. "It saves money, is environmentally friendly and can be used at any time."

Sand is less expensive than salt, so mixing it into a brine helps a little go a long way.

Peterson said there has been discussion at a state level about salt contaminating the environment. There is concern that once salt enters a body of water, there is no way to remove it.

The county and cities add a small percentage of salt to all sand to prevent the sand from freezing into giant unusable blocks in the trucks.

The city trucks spread sand at crucial points like hills, curves and intersections to help provide traction. The sand adds traction to the areas and salt melts ice and snow if the temperatures are above 10 degrees.

The decision to use salt or a sand mixture and how much depends on the area. In town, motorists usually drive slower and have more stops than on many county roads.

County roads like CASA 2, also known as North Cloquet Road, where the speed limit is generally 50 mph, need more salt to melt the ice and snow. Highways 210 and 33 are state roads and plowed by Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

"There's a science to it," Carlton County maintenance superintendent Rick Norrgard said. The county has used nearly 2,000 tons of salt this year and is waiting for the next shipment to be delivered at the end of the week.

The county orders salt in increments, while Cloquet receives its 500 tons all at once in the fall.

While neither has ran out of salt, Peterson said there was a few close calls when the city had to ration before they entered into a contract with the state to ensure their deliveries.

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Salty statistics

Carlton County miles plowed 750+, plus townships

County plow trucks carrying sand mix 12

County graders 6

Cloquet cost for sand and salt each winter $70,000-$75,000

Salt cost per ton this winter $40/ton (as high as $66/ton in past.