You might think that when the snow started falling on Thursday, Riverside Public Works Director Edward Bailey was disappointed. On the contrary, he was excited to try out a new environmentally friendly snow melting agent – beet juice.

For the first time, Riverside is mixing beet juice – a by-product of extracting sugar from beets – with rock salt. The combination lowers the effective temperature of the salt, said Bailey. And because the beet juice acts as a binding agent, it leaves behind a residue that continues to prevent ice buildup on the roads for up to three days after the treated salt is scattered on the street.

Adding the beet juice to the salt, which turns the salt a brownish color, also reduces its “bounce,” said Bailey, meaning it will stay on the street and not fly into parkways as much.

“We should be able to reduce our salt usage over time,” said Bailey. “That will be less corrosive for streets, vehicles and plants on the parkways.”

Village Manager Peter Scalera said the decision to start mixing beet juice with road salt is part of the village’s pledge to incorporate “green” practices.

“We’re trying to find more ways of being green, and this is one more way of doing that,” Scalera said.

In the future, Bailey said he’d like to use beet juice in a preventive fashion, by spraying a mixture of beet juice and salt brine on streets prior to a snow event. Doing so prevents the snow pack from bonding to the street, he said.

The village doesn’t have the equipment to do that on a widespread basis at this point, but Bailey said his crew will experiment with the method in spots, like the downtown train platform, this winter.

The village of Oak Park has been incorporating beet juice into its snow removal efforts for several years now. In addition to mixing it with rock salt, Oak Park also uses a salt brine and beet juice mixture (with a little calcium chloride thrown in) that they spray on select areas, such as on parking decks and bridges over I-290.

“It’s been really effective,” said John Wielebnicki, Oak Park’s public works director. “When you put down the liquid anti-icing, if you get a dusting of snow the salt brine works pretty well. If you get two or three inches, you’re probably putting down just as much salt.”

Oak Park does not use beet juice-laden salt for all its salting operations, however. For one thing, said Wielebnicki, the beet juice is an expensive additive. Second, when temperatures get very low, Oak Park is finding a mixture of calcium chloride and salt to be more effective. Third, he said, “we’re still learning a lot about the beet juice.”

However, Wielebnicki said he is finding the beet juice-coated salt to be more effective than untreated salt.

As to the issue of additional cost, that’s not something Riverside has had to deal with yet. The vendor applied the beet juice to Riverside’s 300-ton stockpile of salt for free for demonstration purposes, said Scalera.

That is allowing Riverside to experiment with the product, to ascertain what conditions are best for applying the beet juice-treated salt.

“We don’t plan on using it in every condition,” said Bailey, who added that the snowfall the area experienced on Jan. 19 and 20 was probably not the best condition for its use. “If the [snow] continues, we’ll order more salt and make a decision to treat the salt as it comes in. I don’t know if you want to have all of it treated.

“The big part is using the right materials in the right conditions.”

Bailey said if the village moves ahead with purchasing beet juice, it can do so through the suburban purchasing cooperative.

“You could say it’s a matter of expense in that it’s a new expense, but over time you should be decreasing your salt usage, and there’s an environmental benefit that you can’t put a price tag on.”