THE island will double its salt stocks for use in severe snow if a plan to build a new facility to house it is given the go-ahead.
The £631,000 scheme will go before Tynwald for approval next week. If successful the work will start this month and be finished by March, meaning it’s fingers crossed for a mild winter 2012/2013.
Plans for the salt barn at Balthane already have planning permission. They have been drawn up following two harsh winters which saw the island disrupted on a large scale by heavy snowfall.
Jeff Robinson, operations director for the Department of Infrastructure (DoI), explained 3,000 tonnes of salt were presently held at Glen Duff and 2,000 tonnes at Ellerslie.
An extra 5,000 tonnes would give the department around five weeks’ supply in severe winter conditions.
Over the last two winters the island has come very close to running out of salt supplies.
Supplies were depleted across the northern hemisphere forcing government to look to the southern hemisphere for help.
‘If we had had a further snowfall last winter we would have run out of salt and been forced to withdraw our service, outside of gritting the main roads into and out of Douglas to the major conurbations,’ admitted Mr Robinson.
The snow stayed around long after the initial fall and the DoI found it was unable to help those stuck in smaller estates as their gritters were too big to reach them.
As a result they have bought two additional small gritters to carry out that work. They have also bought 70 hand drawn gritting machines they can let local authority workers use.
Mr Robinson said the ‘mindset’ of the department had also now changed from simply being the organisation that grits the roads to the department that gets the island back up and running in the event of heavy snowfall.
‘We are now the national holder of the island’s salt stocks to help the island get back on its feet as quickly as possible.’
He said work had been done with schools and businesses to make contingency plans. This, he said, would allow the island to function better as parents would not have to take time off work when schools closed and clients could access businesses.
He pointed to the island’s daily £1.7 million GDP and said although there were no figures as to how much being snowed in affected it, there was anecdotal evidence for instance that banks struggled when customers couldn’t get in or clients due to fly to the island had to cancel. JCK Ltd submitted the lowest tender of seven, at £518,558.
With professional fees, the barn will cost in the region of £631,000. Of that, £430,000 will be spent with Manx companies.