Got news?

If you have an announcement, a best practice, or an accomplishment that you’d like to share, send the details to Snow Magazine Editor Mike Zawacki at

It’s been six months since our last issue, and what a surreal, crazy time it’s been. In that time we’ve been dealing with a very unseasonable winter, and in most markets snow and ice events fell far below expectations. Compounded that with an intense focus on rock salt use and its impact not only on the surrounding environment, but on the snow and ice market, as well. And let’s not forget the labor crises and the crunch to get bodies on the front lines of your snow ops. Here are a bunch of news items that popped up over the last few months that you should know about and may have missed. – Mike Zawacki, editor

© Good luck images | adobe stock

NJ court makes pro-contractor ruling

The Superior Court of New Jersey recently affirmed the trial court’s summary decision in favor of the defendants and ruled that defendants were not obligated to remove snow and ice between parked cars until the cars either moved, or the snow stopped falling, and defendants had a reasonable time to remove the snow.

In Oyebola v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 432 (App. Div. Feb. 25, 2019), Plaintiff slipped and fell in a Wal-Mart parking lot while it was snowing. According to Plaintiff’s testimony, she fell as she was walking between her car and the car parked next to hers when she slipped on ice and snow between the cars, causing a right foot fracture. Subsequently, she sued Defendants Walmart and Tree Fellas, the snow removal crew. The trial court granted defendants’ summary judgment motion and ruled that no rational jury would find that the defendants were negligent because plaintiff fell during an ongoing snowstorm when Tree Fellas was already at the location, performing ice and snow removal.

On appeal, the Superior Court agreed with the trial court and affirmed their decision. The Superior Court first noted that defendants do not dispute that they owed plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care because she was a business invitee of Wal-Mart. However, the Court noted that it has long been recognized that commercial landowners have a reasonable time in which to act to clear snow and ice from walkways.

Since there was an ongoing snowstorm at the time of plaintiff’s fall and the snow removal crew was on site, the Superior Court agreed with the trial court’s decision. The Court further ruled that Plaintiff’s additional arguments, including whether Wal-Mart should have remained open or whether defendants complied with the snow-removal contract, were not genuine issues of material fact. The undisputed material fact was that it was snowing, and that defendants are entitled to a reasonable period of time to remove the snow.

© SnowEx

Season Salt

It’s nearly impossible to wade through the daily news feed without coming across one article or television report from the snowbelt about rock salt’s impact on surrounding aquatic flora and fauna. Regional activists are sounding the alarm that enough is enough with the tons upon tons of rock salt used each winter to mitigate ice, and the buildup of sodium and chloride levels are causing irreparable harm to surrounding bodies of water.

An influx of “natural” or purportedly “environmentally safe” alternatives and additives directed at both the public and private snow markets have answered that alarm. Take beet juice and beet juice additives, for example, which was one of the earliest alternative solutions to hit the market. Initial interest was mostly on the municipal side as a cost- and material-saving measure because, as a spray-on additive, it both kickstarted the rock salt into solution and required less salt to be effective on streets and roads.

However, one University of Toledo scientist has risen a red flag about this seemingly innocuous product. It is important to remember that the science always tends to lag behind the product, says Assistant Professor Dr. William Hintz, Department of Environmental Sciences and Lake Erie Center. And beet juice is a good example.

According to Hintz, who has spent the last five years focused on rock salt’s impact on freshwater systems, there is limited scientific research on the environmental impact of using beet juice as a snow and ice management tool. And some of the research indicates these products have the potential to be just as toxic as rock salt.

“We just published a paper in 2017 that found that the beet juice additives, because it’s an organic compound, increase microbial respiration in water. If you increase microbial respiration you can reduce the oxygen in the water depending on the time of day,” he says, adding less oxygen in the water could have a negative impact on aquatic organisms.

In addition, organic-based products used as rock salt additives don’t eliminate salt’s impact on the surrounding environment. “Because you put “Solution A” into a road salt mixture isn’t negating the impact the salt itself,” Hintz says. “You’re just adding to it.”

Society has been using rock salt since the 1940s to combat slick winter roadways and it’s been an invaluable tool in reducing winter road accidents and pavement slip-and-falls. But it’s only been the last few years that the scientific community has taken a close look of the impact of that use on the environment.

It’s a noble cause to seek out and integrate eco-friendly alternatives into ice management strategies, but more research is needed in order to draw concrete conclusions about these products’ effectiveness and overall impact on the environment over the long term. Today’s panacea could be tomorrow’s poison.

“Studying the effects --- the effects of the additive alone, the effects of the salt alone, the effects of the additive with the salt – those studies need to be done to home in on what might be the best or better alternative,” Hintz says.

“The jury is still out, so to speak,” he adds. “It’s in need of further study. As a scientist, I’m not going to say one way or another that something is bad or good relative to the current products we study, [but] as new things come on the market it seems appropriate to do your due diligence and see what the impacts are.”

Rad Scientist

Proving the necessity is the mother of invention, EMI Landscape’s Bob Marks concocts his own brand of hand sanitizer for the company’s workforce.
© EMI Landscape

A little of this … a little of that. Snowfighter Bob Marks shares his formula for homemade hand sanitizer to keep crews safe from Covid-19.

To keep crews safe during this epidemic, EMI Landscape, Macungie, Pa., needed hand sanitizer to help stop the spread of Coronavirus. Except with the hand product being in such demand, it’s nearly impossible to find it on store shelves or through online retailers.

So, as necessity is the mother of invention, EMI Operations Manager Bob Marks went to work on their own brand of homemade hand sanitizer.

“The mixture ends up a little thin,” he says of the final product. “It's not as thick as a store-bought hand sanitizer but works just as effective.”

And the crews seem to really appreciate the fact that their company has their best interests in mind, he adds. “The feedback has been positive. Everyone has a bottle of hand sanitizer and each truck has a spray bottle of a different sanitizer that works on surfaces.”

Marks was happy to share his formula for hand sanitizer with the rest of the snowfighting community.

3-Parts Isopropyl Alcohol

“The alcohol is 99% isopropyl alcohol. It's the typical stuff,” Marks says. “I had to order it online from a beauty supply store because our pharmacies are sold out. The sanitizer does need to be a minimum 60% [alcohol]. We are making ours 75%, so 3parts 99% alcohol and 1-part aloe vera gel. If your isopropyl alcohol is weaker (some are 91%) you will just need to adjust your ratio so 60-75% is actual alcohol.”

1-Part Aloe Vera Gel

My mom (who is EMI’s office manager) actually had the aloe vera gel,” Marks says. “ I think you can get it at pharmacies, Target, Wal-Mart, etc. Right now, it's hard to find. I tried using another kind that had some moisturizer and scents in it. It would not mix. So just regular old aloe vera get seems best.”

Essential Oils

Essential oils make it smell nice,” Marks adds. “This time I’ve used an essential oil that is supposed to help with motivation. Let’s see if it shows with the teams! Again, it was something my mom already had. You just need something to cut the smell of the isopropyl alcohol. Lavender seems the most popular.”

SnowBot Update

I reconnected with Left Hand Robotics CEO Terry Olkin the other day and he updated me on the progress and acceptance the company’s SnowBot robotic snow removal machine was making this winter. It’d been about a year since I first had Terry as a guest of The Snow Magazine Podcast (Enter into your browser to listen to the episode) and at the time the SnowBot had only been on the market for a couple of months.

With winter you only have a small window of time when snow contractors can get SnowBot onto the pavement and really run it through its paces. And when it doesn’t snow a lot, like Winter 2019-20 so far, it’s hard for the industry – like East Coast snow contractors – to really see the machine in action.

“It’s been an interesting challenge for this kind of machine as opposed to other types of snow [removal] equipment where [the contractor] is used to it and they understand it,” Olkin says. “This is new technology that has never been done before. I think there is still a learning curve and an educational process to really understanding how it works, what its limits are, and how to use it.”

Winter’s finicky nature was considered during the design phase so a mowing deck could be added allowing for SnowBot to seamlessly turn into a MowBot for year-round use.

Despite the weak winter, SnowBot’s CEO remains optimistic about the potential in the commercial snow and ice market.
© image copyright here

“Robotic mowers are a little bit more understood and accepted, and for whatever reason there isn’t much “Will it work? Won’t it work?” Olkin says. “Snow is a lot tougher environment.”

Despite the weather setbacks, Left Hand Robotics and its SnowBot has drawn interest from large industry manufacturers, especially for the tech that makes it tick.

“A number of large OEM’s – the people who make this power equipment for the snow, construction or any [allied] industry – they’ve come to us … and want to put the tech on their [next generation] machines.”

Left Hand Robotics has named the platform BOLT. BOLT allows OEMs to launch faster, reduce R&D costs, and tap into a unified platform with navigation, sensors, controls, software and apps.

“We want to be the Windows of the power equipment industry and be the platform that people build on top of,” Olkin says.

Help Out The Heroes

The need is greater than ever to help fellow Americans serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us know emergency and/or medical professionals who are working tirelessly in ERs and ICU units or driving ambulances – away from their families – to save lives and bring comfort to those with Coronavirus.

GreenCare for Troops wants to help. The 14-year-old program has a unique opportunity to help a nurse, a paramedic, a Coronavirus tester, and other health care professionals in your community. While they can't help all front-line heroes, they hope with the contractor community's support they can provide the gift of green space to our community heroes in their time of need.

Snow and landscape contractors make up a large contingent of dedicated volunteers who already give generously of their time and services for active duty military families. The hope is that contractors not currently matched – and many of you in the industry have been waiting for a family to help – that you'll reach out and help a health care hero through Oct. 1.

Here's how it works. Select someone in your community to receive service. It’s up to you to determine how many families you can help, and what services you can provide. Identify people directly related to the health care field such as nurses, paramedics, health care workers conducting Coronavirus testing and hospital support staff.

Let SnowCare/GreenCare know who you're helping. Once you identify a family and set up the parameters of service, provide the name, address and services to program managers Ki Matsko and Nici Trem and they will enter the information into the GreenCare database.