Press Club

Peter’s Take: Salt Dome Fiasco — There’s a Better Way

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On July 18, the County Board set September public hearings on a “short-term North Arlington salt storage plan” to address a rusting salt storage tank (aka the “Salt Dome”) located at 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive.

Having acknowledged their failure to plan for the Salt Dome’s replacement — despite obvious, long-standing rust problems — county staff publicly declared an emergency last month, dumping the problem into the County Board’s lap while pleading for:

  • an emergency rezoning of portions of this site from S-3A to P-S;
  • construction of a temporary, new storage structure on a different portion of this site.

Not all of N. Arlington’s road salt must be stored at the Salt Dome site, making this emergency rezoning request unnecessary

County Board Chair Katie Cristol stated: “Board members agree that Arlington County must be prepared to efficiently and effectively handle snow and ice to keep our roads and residents safe this winter.”

But there is a cheaper, more efficient solution to achieve the Board’s goal. Staff’s proposed solution seemingly involves taking three weeks to empty the dome and trucking the site’s stored salt up to Baltimore. Instead:

  • a portion of existing salt reserves can remain on the Salt Dome site without removing trees and paving over green space to construct a new, temporary structure there;
  • the balance of N. Arlington’s salt reserves can be stored temporarily on the Buck site (which is already zoned for this use) or on another N. Arlington site; and
  • once the Salt Dome is empty, its demolition and replacement can begin.

As resident Rob MacKichan recounted in his July 17 Board testimony (at 4:18:58), county staff executive George May has confirmed Arlington’s road salt inventory:

– 2,500 tons of salt now inside the Salt Dome;

– 1,500 tons of salt under a tarp next to the Salt Dome;

– 3,500 tons of salt in S. Arlington.

Thus, of the 8,000 tons the Manager’s FY19 budget says we need for the coming winter, the county already has roughly 7,500 tons of salt on hand.

The simplest solution is to transfer the salt now stored in the Salt Dome to an industrially zoned, centrally located, temporary site in N. Arlington. The Buck site is one existing alternative that meets these criteria. As the Manager has indefinitely delayed long-term planning for the Buck site, temporarily storing salt there won’t delay or alter the site’s ultimate redevelopment.

Staff claims that temporarily storing salt (in a canvas teepee) on the Buck site would “break faith with the community.” Unexplained is why a temporary use consistent with current zoning constitutes “breaking faith” with Buck site neighbors, whereas summarily rezoning public parkland and converting it into paved industrial space does not constitute “breaking faith” with Salt Dome neighbors.

County staff must be held accountable

Arlington residents deserve answers to these questions:

  • Why didn’t this “conversation” take place last year, as the County Manager acknowledged it should have?
  • Which specific steps will the County take to prevent staff from–in County Board member Libby Garvey’s words –“doing this to us or our community again”?

Conclusion

It’s tough to understand why such a disruptive “emergency” solution is required when a simpler, cheaper, more efficient alternative is readily available. Temporarily storing some salt on the Buck site during the new dome’s construction still allows for appropriate long-term planning.

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