Council turns to Chile as the weather stays chilly

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Published Date: 

11 Jan 2011 (All day)

As the wintery temperatures continue, Argyll and Bute Council is relying on the sunny shores of Chile to keep the area on the move. 


But this isn’t a case of jetting off on holiday to avoid the snow.  Instead the council is accepting deliveries of salt from mines in South America.


But securing salt supplies is just one part of Argyll and Bute’s winter survival strategy. Since the first frost appeared, council teams have been working around the clock to treat roads, clear snow and fill up grit bins.


Over the Christmas period there was no rest for the roads team, who continued a 24 hour service while everyone else was opening presents and eating turkey.


A total of 755 miles of roads in Argyll and Bute (215 in Bute and Cowal, 235 in Mid Argyll, Kintyre and Islay, 95 in Helensburgh and Lomond and 210 in Oban, Lorn and the Isles) were treated the equivalent of 104 times – often in some of the most challenging conditions ever faced.


That’s a total of 80,600 miles of roads – the equivalent of more than three times around the world.


Roads operations manager Graham Brown said: “Over the Christmas holiday we faced conditions which defy any form of effective pre-treatment.  Rain and sleet landing on roads where the surface temperatures were well below zero led to ice forming almost immediately. 


“Pre-treatment with salt can sometimes prevent the ice forming, but heavy rain can wash away the salt and leave the roads unprotected, which is what happened in many areas across Argyll.


“We constantly reviewed the situation and adapted our response accordingly.  Our first priority is to keep the faster major routes safe and traffic flowing.”


There have been recent heavy snow falls across Lorn, Cowal and Lomond. In particular, the situation in and around Oban last Saturday required Argyll and Bute Council to lend assistance to Scotland TranServ to get the town moving after the A85 became impassable at the Bealach an Righ.


The unusually heavy snowfall in Oban left snow depths of up to 250mm or 10” in places in the town. Gridlocked traffic made it problematic for the snow ploughs to reach the areas where vehicles were having difficulties. A police escort was necessary to get the plough from the depot, where it was reloading with salt and grit, to the Bealach an Righ to assist.


Councillor Duncan MacIntyre, spokesperson for transport and infrastructure, said: “The efforts made by our teams in Oban at the weekend – and indeed across the entire area over the winter period so far - have been exceptional. 


“Our teams have combined all of the resources at their disposal with expertise and local knowledge of the road network to keep the travelling public safe and mobile.  Teams operated at full strength across the holiday period but the conditions meant their resources and ingenuity were stretched to their limits.


“We’re less than half way through the winter and the cold weather looks set to continue.  We’ll obviously continue our efforts to keep the road network open and safe.”


And it wasn’t just the roads team which provided excellent service during the festive period.  Care providers and refuse collectors were all still working over the holidays.


Argyll and Bute Council has so far used 15,400 tonnes of salt and 9,000 tonnes of grit this winter.  Over the same period last year we used 11,900 tonnes of salt and 4,000 tonnes of grit.  The total amount of salt used last year was 18,774 tonnes and 6,000 tonnes of grit.


The amount of salt in stock in Argyll and Bute currently stands at some 2,600 tonnes. A further 2,000 tonnes of Chilean salt is being transported into the area this week, taking the total to nearer 5,000 tonnes.


A further 3,000 tonnes is already on order, and is expected to arrive at the end of January.


Councillor MacIntyre said; “With the weather information currently available to us, we are confident that this will be enough. However, we are monitoring the situation on a daily basis and will of course order more if we think we are going to need it.”


In terms of the general situation, he continued:


“We’ve been using refuse collectors and other staff with appropriate driving qualifications to drive gritters and snow ploughs.  Some local haulage companies who have been unable to operate due to weather have allowed us to hire their drivers so we could work around the clock over the holidays.


“We haven’t seen conditions like this in Argyll and Bute for many years but the response from our teams has been fantastic, and I have every confidence this will continue.”