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Originally published Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 3:02 PM

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Mayor Nickels gives city 'B' grade for snow response

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, noting "there is always room for improvement," said the city will analyze its response to the recent series of snowstorms, including the controversial policy of using sand rather than salt on icy roads

Seattle Times science reporter

Vote | Seattle's storm response

Mayor Greg Nickels rated the city's response to the snowstorms as a "B." What do you think?

Mayor Greg Nickels gives the city a "B" on its response to the series of snowstorms that left many roads a morass of ice and slush for nearly a week.

The unusual combination of three heavy snowfalls in quick succession simply overwhelmed the city's capabilities to keep roads clear, Nickels said.

"It's the first time, really, in a decade that we've faced this series of events," he said at a news conference today outside Qwest Field.

The city will analyze the storm response, including the questions of whether Seattle needs more snow plows and other equipment, and whether to stick with a policy of using sand, not salt, on ice-covered roads.

"We always learn from these events," Nickels said. "I think there's room for improvement."

But Seattle will never be as well-equipped as Buffalo, Cleveland and other cities that are regularly buried by blizzards, Nickels pointed out.

"It just doesn't happen that often for us to have the kind of response of these other cities," none of which have Seattle's hilly terrain, he said.

Rain and warmer temperatures today are beginning to melt off some of the accumulated ice and snow, and are making it easier as snow plows turn their attention some of the city's steep, east-west corridors, secondary arterials and side roads.

"It looks like the worst is over," Nickels said.

But a cycle of freezing and thawing could continue over the next few days, creating drainage problems.

Regular garbage pickup will resume on Friday. People who were skipped over will not be charged extra for accumulated trash, which should be placed in large plastic bags.

Seattle residents can call 206-684-3000 with questions about garbage pickup, drainage and pipe problems and power outages. Nickels said the line will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Christmas Day, and around the clock after that.

Seattle's 27 snow plows are being augmented today with two other pieces of snow-moving equipment, one from the parks department and one from an outside contractor.

Nickels estimated the city has spread about 8,800 tons of sand on snowy roads. He defended the city's prohibition on the use of salt to melt snow. The policy was adopted in the 1990s, when Puget Sound chinook were added to the endangered species list, and experts warned salt runoff from roads could harm the fish.

"We believe there are important environmental reasons for that," Nickels said. "It's not political correctness."

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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