MINOT — If roads through the town seem especially sweet this winter, there's a reason for that.
The town is purchasing a sample pile of specially treated road salt, a combination of salt, magnesium chloride and molasses byproducts to clear ice and snow on town roads, according to Town Manager Arlan Saunders.
"Our plan is to fill one truck up with regular rock salt and the other with this stuff," Saunders said. "We'll send them out on adjacent roads and see if there's a difference."
The specially treated salt is supposed to be more effective, according to maker International Salt Co. It's more expensive, but the town should use less of it.
"It normally costs about 20 percent more per ton, but you are supposed to be able to use 20 percent less. It's supposed to be a wash," Saunders said.
Saunders hopes the big savings will come in truck maintenance. Normal salt and ice-melting liquids such as calcium chloride are hard on vehicle undercarriages — especially on the snowplows and trucks that dump the stuff.
By contrast, the sugar-coated salt is supposed to be less than one-tenth as corrosive as plain rock salt.
"If it does what they say, it'll be a wash as far as the salt goes," he said. "But we can save a lot on maintenance. We have a 2003 Freightliner that we have to replace all the hydraulic steel lines on it because they've rotted out — and we wash that equipment after every storm. We also have to put new floors in the dump bodies every 10 years or so."
Saunders said the town is taking advantage of a special 20 percent rebate for this winter, making the special salt the same price as untreated rock salt.
"So why not try it?" he said.
Mary Kay Warner, marketing manager for International Salt, said the idea is not a new one.
The liquid mixture of sugar cane byproducts and magnesium chloride is sold by Sears Ecological Applications Co. LLC under the name Ice B'Gone, and International Salt has been offering various ice melt treatments since 1997.
Gary Wadsworth, assistant Auburn city engineer, said Auburn's crew tried the liquid version several years ago but found it was difficult to deliver.
"The stuff we experimented with was sprayed on the salt as it came out the truck," Wadsworth said. "We did a couple of trial runs, and we had a problem with it gumming up the pump systems. It actually bound up our equipment."
Warner said her company's current product combines the Ice B'Gone liquid with rock salt using a patented process. It's sold in retail stores under the name Blizzard Wizard.
"We consistently blended it so that every salt crystal is totally encapsulated with this formulation," she said. "Other products are added topically, so they are just not as consistent."
Warner said the end result is easy to spread.
"It's spreads exactly like regular salt," she said. "It is a moist product, and that provides benefits."
Basically, it stays where it's dropped, she said, making it easier to spread.
"A dry product is going to bounce and scatter, whereas this adheres to the surface," she said.
The combination of chemicals make the ice-melting properties last longer, as well.
"You actually use less of the product, so it's gentler on the environment," she said.
The treatment is sold in bulk and commonly used on roads in Massachusetts and Connecticut but not in Maine.
Saunders said he understands Minot will be the first Maine department to test the mix. The state and Twin Cities use a magnesium chloride pretreatment process to keep the roads clear of ice. Lewiston and Auburn officials said they're not interested in changing currently.
"But we're excited about trying it," Minot's Saunders said. "Hopefully it works."