Melter is enlisted in city's snowdrift battle

Baltimore has brought in a new weapon in the battle against the towering mounds of gray snow lining city streets - a Canadian snow melter.

The device, which resembles a large trash bin with a panel of knobs and gauges, can melt up to 10 truckloads of snow an hour, said Scott Brillman, deputy director of the city's emergency management office.

The melter was chewing through snow in the parking of Polytechnic Institute yesterday morning and is slated to travel to neighborhoods, including Poplar Hills, Federal Hill and the Harford Road corridor, throughout the week to tackle drifts there, said Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake.

"Our main concern at this point is traffic," Rawlings-Blake said. "We've got large piles that are blocking views and essentially causing blind turns. This is powerful but small, and can really get into neighborhoods."

Workers were also focusing on clearing secondary roads and school parking lots Monday, said Rawlings-Blake.

The snow expected last night and this morning will be "a walk in the park" compared with last week's back-to-back heavy snows, Rawlings-Blake said.

Baltimore has spent about $6 million removing snow from the record storms, but officials hope to recoup as much of 75 percent of that from federal disaster relief funds, said the mayor's spokesman, Ryan O'Doherty.

The melter will help with one of the most pressing problems posed by those storms - where to put all that snow. Workers have been dumping it on fields at Pimlico Race Track and the Inner Harbor. Since the melter can be easily transported, it cuts down on the distance that trucks hauling snow must travel, officials said. The device will be parked in neighborhoods where dump trucks and Bobcats can fill it with snow from the surrounding streets.

It is the first time the city has used a snow melter, although they are common in snowier locales. Baltimore is paying $300 an hour for the use of the melter and a licensed worker, and will use it "as long as necessary," Brillman said.

The melter uses heated coils to melt the snow into water that streams out from the bottom of the device into a storm drain. No chemicals are added to the snow, and filters strain out larger debris, Brillman said.

Bill Hamilton, the owner of Turf Plus, a snow-removal company from Ontario, said he contacted city authorities after hearing about the record snowfall.

He was looking for a chance to use his melter, since there has been only about 10 inches of snow in Ontario this season, he said.

When he left Ontario Sunday morning, it was a few degrees warmer than it is in Baltimore, and there was no snow on the ground, he said. Surveying the piles in the Poly parking lot, he said: "This is a big snow. We don't get this very often."

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