Highway officials feed roads cheese brine
Treatment saves 40 percent in Polk County salt costs, manager says
Moe Norby and his daughter have a special relationship. She's now serving in the military, following in her father's footsteps, but when she was growing up, their relationship endured some challenges specific to Moe's job.
"I used to tell my daughter when she was going to high school that my goal was to make sure you don't have a snow day," the Polk County Highway Department manager said with a smile. "It didn't make her happy, but that was our goal. To make sure everything was running well. Still is."
Norby could be blamed for ruining one of the best "I'm going to be late for work" excuses that employees use every winter in Wisconsin. His crews don't just drop salt and plow the 600 miles of county highway and 400-plus miles of state highway in the northern Wisconsin county.
He found the solution to salt and money shortfalls in Polk County just down the road at the F&A Dairy in Dresser. The cheese brine used to make mozzarella and provolone that is shipped to restaurants and consumers worldwide makes an impact locally as well.
"What we found with the cheese brine is it's a stand-alone product," he said. "It works great by itself. It has enough organics in it that it goes to a lower freeze point than normal salt.
"This is Wisconsin. It's a cheese product we're putting back on the roads."
Polk County obtained a permit from the DNR a few years ago to see if the treatment would work. Norby discovered that pre-wetting the salt with the brine sped up the melting process and ended up saving his budget 40 percent in salt costs.
"The bottom line is it saves money," he said. "It saves taxpayers money."
The city of Milwaukee this winter is using brine from the F&A Dairy as part of a pilot project to see if it can help clear its streets. Norby does not see a downside.
"Any place there's a cheese factory making mozzarella or provolone, I would think if they're using salt water, it'd be a viable option to use on the roads with salt," he said.
The plan also saves the dairy tens of thousands of dollars each year. F&A donates the brine to Polk County, a significant departure from the past when it was required to ship it to the Twin Cities Wastewater Treatment facilities. The dairy also benefits from the cleaner roads as it ships its products worldwide.
"You can go from this county to another county and you can see the difference," said Chuck Engdahl, a manager at F&A. "I mean, they just look completely different."
In the meanwhile, Norby is not the only Polk County Highway worker having problems with his family as a result of the cheese brine.
"My kids aren't too happy," said Loren Dusek, a plow driver. "They wish I wouldn't put no salt and brine down and forget to go to work in the morning."
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