A few bad apples have spoiled , launched just two weeks ago.
Kent Service Director Gene Roberts announced the program’s suspension Friday due to several instances of “inappropriate pickup” and safety issues brought to light by a man wandering into the city’s salt dome in search of more product.
City Manager Dave Ruller introduced the free service Jan. 5 in his Kent 360° blog post about the importance of residents shoveling and salting their sidewalks – and the city’s efforts to get that message out.
Ruller said he was hopeful that giving rock salt away was a better means to encourage snow shoveling than establishing stricter laws and penalties for people who don't clear their walks.
He also made sure to point out, “This is meant as a service for residents, not contractors, and we will use video equipment to make sure that the right people are using this new service.”
Roberts said Friday that program violators weren't deterred by the video camera trained on the salt bin, situated just outside the fence surrounding Kent’s yard waste site. Nor were they deterred by the presence of city employees working nearby.
“During the last major storm event, there was a guy who pulled up in a pickup truck with a snowplow on the front who unloaded the whole bin into his truck. Another guy came in and filled up eight 5-gallon buckets. There’s no reason an individual resident would need that much salt,” Roberts said.
A safety issue came to light, Roberts said, when “another guy walked into the salt dome wanting to fill his bucket.” The dome is used to store salt that is loaded into city trucks with large equipment – and it’s not open to the public.
Roberts said the city gave away between 2¼ and 2½ tons of salt during the two-week experiment at a cost of about $80. But those stats didn’t lead to the program’s demise.
“It was the fact that it was being abused. People weren’t acting appropriately and were even starting to act in an unsafe manner,” Roberts explained.
The service director said he couldn’t estimate how many individual residents cashed in on the service during its two-week run.
“If in the event everybody took a bucket, we could get close to an accurate number. But when you get one guy emptying the entire barrel into a trash can … they were emptying it as quickly as we would fill it up,” Roberts said. “Hopefully our good Kent residents were able to get a bucket of salt when the program was operational.”
Just to be sure the program should be suspended, Roberts got up early Friday morning to drive up and down various Kent streets for a first-hand look.
“I’d have a different opinion (about canceling the program) if I had driven down city streets and saw a lot of sidewalks wet from salt – not snowy,” he said.
As for the program violators? The city won’t be pursuing action against them.
“We haven’t watched every hour of videotape. The one thing I can say with a high degree of certainty is that we can identify vehicles, but not to that same degree of certainty who was driving them,” Roberts explained. “We’re just cutting (the service) off before we lose any more money. It’s a shame that it didn’t work out.”