Rosemere testing wood chips as an alternative to road salt

The north-shore town of Rosemere is trying out an alternative to road salt and gravel for streets covered in ice and snow — wood chips.

The process of making and spreading the wood chips, coated with magnesium chloride — allowing the chips to better adhere to snow and ice — was first patented in Switzerland, and brought to Rosemere by the town's public works manager who attended a conference on snow clearing, and thought the process something worth trying.

"Basically, he came up with the idea, so we took the initiative, and we started to spread it on two streets here," says Rosemere mayor Eric Westram.

While the invention come from Europe, Westram says a Quebec company has the distribution and production rights.

His town's pilot project began two weeks ago on two main arteries located near a river, where the moister air tends to favor the creation of slippery streets. And he says, so far, so good.

"I'm hearing all kinds of good things," Westram says. "We're very interested in anything that relates to ecology, so basically the idea of using something that's biodegradable in comparison to of a large interest."

The wood chips disappear on their own, and can also help vehicles maintain their traction in -30-degree temperatures. Road salt, by comparison, loses its effectiveness at -15.

Westram says if the project is successful, the town will use the chips on more streets. Once it's over, the city will do a cost analysis to compare spending more on the chips, and less on the traditional salt and gravel.

"But even it [the wood chips] came up to the same price, or slightly higher, the benefits of it are so interesting," Westram says. "And again, the maintenance of the have to look at those costs, too."