Snow No More: Winnetka tries out machine that makes snow disappear
The falling snow makes for a pleasant sight, but once fallen, the snow becomes the enemy of public works employees everywhere who are tasked with roadway and pedestrian safety.
This year, the Village of Winnetka had a surprise ready for that enemy: the Trecan 135-PD Melter. And the snow never stood a chance.
The new weapon in snow removal was given a test run in Winnetka business districts overnight Monday, Jan. 24, after the town took on the first major snowfall of the year.
The snow-melting machine turned literal tons of snow into harmless liters of water that were rushed into village storm sewers.
But don’t go getting used to the Trecan 135-PD. It was just in town on loan as part of a pilot program to potentially better the Village’s current snow-removal process, said Giovanni McLean, Winnetka’s public works director.
McLean said seeing the machine in action is step one.
“The pilot project was so informative — seeing it in operation, seeing how it works,” he said. “We have to do a lot of due diligence before … (village) council consideration. There’s a lot of work ahead of us. But it’s a good start.”
McLean told The Record that Winnetka’s layout and density make snow removal tedious.
The Public Works Department usually clears snow using heavy machinery, such as front- and end-loaders, and collects it in rented dump trucks. The trucks haul the snow to the Cherry Street extension that winds around Duke Childs Fields. The snow is dumped and spread throughout the open land.
In 2021, McLean and company investigated alternatives to the process and came across snow melters, and the Village opened a bidding process in November for a one-event trial run with an industrial snow melter.
A bid from Brancato Snow & Ice Management, of Des Plaines, was selected, and according to Village documents, included a 10-hour shift and 80 tons of snow per hour with the Trecan 135-PD Melter at a cost of $18,100.
Along with the snow melter, the work entailed “loader equipment, traffic control and operational staff,” McLean said.
According to the Trecan website heavy-duty snow melters, which are commonly deployed by airports, use warm water to melt large quantities of snow. Snow is bulk dropped into the machine’s tank, which is filled with water warmed to about 80 degrees by an independent burner. A combustion fan “agitates” the water to accelerate the melt. The resulting water is sent through a filter and out of the machine via an overflow drain.
The Trecan 135-PD can melt upward of 135 tons of snow an hour. For reference, 135 tons amounts to about 25 truck loads of snow, McLean said.
McLean was happy with the machine’s performance during the trial run, and the community feedback was also positive.
“The decibel level of the unit was really low,” he said. “A backhoe backing up is louder than this equipment. It runs pretty quiet.”
McLean said he and his team will develop a report that includes cost analysis to inform a path forward for the Village of Winnetka and its snow removal. The research, he said, will likely be submitted to Village officials in the summer.
That means Winnetkans have seen the last of the Trecan 135-PD — for now.
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319