Machine melts snow — and its removal costsWhen the Metrodome roof collapse in December 2010 forced the Minnesota Vikings across town to the University of Minnesota’s outdoor football field, officials called on the Snow Dragon to get rid of the snow in the TCF Bank Stadium and do it fast.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
When the Metrodome roof collapse in December 2010 forced the Minnesota Vikings across town to the University of Minnesota’s outdoor football field, officials called on the Snow Dragon to get rid of the snow in the TCF Bank Stadium and do it fast.
The Snow Dragon — a giant, mobile pot that cooks snow into water at 130 degrees — melts away 450 to 600 cubic yards of snow an hour. At TCF Bank Stadium, the machine also filtered out the small bits of rubber that were scraped off the artificial turf by plows.
“They needed to get rid of all that snow fast so the Vikings could play the Bears. But they also wanted it to be clean. They didn’t want anything going into the storm drain” and into the nearby Mississippi River, said Jim Robertson, general manager of Twin Cities-based Interstate Companies, which owns a Snow Dragon machine.
On Wednesday, Robertson’s company brought the Snow Dragon to Duluth for the first time, showing it off at a St. Luke’s hospital parking lot where piles of snow usually must be hauled to a remote site. The self-contained Snow Dragon is towed behind a semi-truck.
Maintenance chiefs from private Duluth companies and public agencies ogled the Snow Dragon’s ability to get rid of tons of snow in minutes without the usual parade of dump trucks.
OJ Rinehart, Interstate’s president, said the machine costs about $800 an hour to operate. But that’s about half the cost of paying $80 an hour for each of many dump trucks that would be needed to haul the stuff away.
“It would take about 20 dump trucks making two trips per hour to keep up with this,” Rinehart said. “So you’re talking $1,600 per hour, not including disposal costs.”
Terry Anding, maintenance and grounds manager for Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, said the hospital system already has paid more than $300,000 for snow removal and disposal this year, much of that to haul snow from multiple downtown parking lots to a field in Rice Lake Township.
“It can be upward of $30,000 or $40,000 to get the snow from one big storm hauled way,” Anding said. In addition to the cost of dump trucks, Essentia is paying $15 per load to the landowner.
“This system makes a lot of sense; it would definitely help us reduce our costs,” Anding said.
Robertson said the Snow Dragon uses about 90 gallons of diesel fuel an hour to run at capacity. While that sounds like a lot, it’s much less than 20 dump trucks hauling snow 10 or 12 miles round-trip. Less fuel also means less carbon pollution.
“If you have a lot of storage space for snow, this probably doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Robertson said. “But it really cuts the amount of fuel being used for our customers who have to haul snow. It reduces the environmental impact quite a bit.”
The company claims to save their average customers between 20 and 60 percent compared to hauling snow out.
Probably the biggest environmental benefit is the amount of sand, dirt, grit and garbage that the Snow Dragon’s filtration system collects and captures.
The machine’s holding tanks for trash on Wednesday showed a plethora of cigarette butts, pop cans and bottles, makeup containers, paper, gravel, blacktop chunks and more from the pile of snow at the St. Luke’s lot at Second Street and 11th Avenue East.
“It’s amazing how dirty snow gets,” Rinehart said, adding that the company hauls that captured muck and trash to approved landfills.
Mostly clean water runs out the bottom of the Snow Dragon, directly into a storm sewer manhole.
All of the garbage, sand and muck captured otherwise would have melted into the city storm-drain system and, probably, ridden the snowmelt wave right into Lake Superior, Chris Kleist, city of Duluth storm water coordinator, said as he watched the Snow Dragon work Wednesday. That’s the grit and garbage most likely to carry hitchhiking pollutants like oil into the lake.
Kleist said the Snow Dragon technology could keep a lot of grit and garbage out of the system and the environment.
Kleist said the city of Duluth has a close-by snow-dumping spot along Railroad Street that keeps hauling costs relatively low for downtown. But he said the city might be able to use the Snow Dragon to reduce hauling costs in other parts of the city.
Snow Dragons are built in Ohio by ParkOhio and cost about $585,000 new. The technology has been around about a decade, Robertson said, and Interstate has been using one in Minnesota for about five years.