Salt for sore eyes: St. John's harbour salt pile blocks some of the best views Social Sharing

20 Jul 2021 1:53 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

Salt for sore eyes: St. John's harbour salt pile blocks some of the best views | CBC News

Matt Idnurm likes to spend the early summer months watching the marine life off St. John's harbour from his first-floor balcony on Water Street downtown.

"I sit out here with my binoculars and I watch the whales in the ocean," he said in a recent interview. But this year, he said, "we can't see a bloody thing. All I can see is the black tarp and the tires on it."

Idnurm is bemoaning a pile of road salt sitting more than two-storeys high and occupying more than a ship's length of prime waterfront in Newfoundland and Labrador's capital city. The pile belongs to A. Harvey & Company Ltd., a local firm specializing in marine shipping -- and salt.

Each year, the salt is stacked and covered with black tarps to prevent the minerals from flying away. Large, strategically placed tires keep the tarps from flapping in the city's strong winds.

Normally, Idnurm said, the salt is piled in the fall and the mound is tarped around the time the first snowflakes hit the streets.

"I put up with it for five or six weeks and I go to Florida."

But this year, he said, the pile came early.

Geoff Cunningham, vice-president of operations with A. Harvey & Company, is reluctant to talk about the salt. "It's proprietary information," he said.

When asked if he gets curious phone calls about it, he was more forthcoming: "Oh God, yes."

Cunningham said the salt pile acts as a kind of dynamic map of the winter -- like a tarp-covered, view-obstructing weather vane, he said.

"How's the winter going? Well you can see how the pile is shrinking," he mused.

Last winter didn't involve as much snow as previous years, leaving a lot of leftover salt, Cunningham said. "Some year there's none by the time April comes."

The City of St. John's uses about 28,000 tonnes of salt on average from the pile each year, and spokeswoman Susan Bonnell said city hall is peppered with questions about the curious sight on the waterfront each season. And while the salt pile blocks some of the best views in town, Bonnell said that's not what's upsetting people.

 "The complaints, generally speaking, relate to salt debris forming on adjacent dwellings and vehicles during high winds," she said in an email.

Christina Parker, who owns an art gallery nearby, said the salt heap is the "bane of everyone's existence." Aside from the salt dust blowing around, she said, the monolith is a grim reminder of the winter months ahead. "It's a real downer," she said, laughing.

Milton Spracklin, owner of United Sail Works, the company that makes the tarps for the salt pile, said all that complaining is "silliness."

"You do get a bit of dust that blows around, but I'm going to tell you, on a windy day, when the salt water is being blown off the ocean, it's worse than the dust being blown off the pile," he said in an interview Monday.

Besides, he added, if it weren't for that salt, the steep, slippery winter streets of St. John's would be a mess of backward-sliding cars.

His company makes two new tarps every year to suit the pile, he said, adding that this year's tarps combined weigh nearly two tonnes and cover an area about 81 metres long and 152 metres wide — nearly the size of three Canadian Coast Guard polar icebreakers lined up side by side.

The salt comes by ship from the the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

"The ship hauls up to the side of the wharf, and it has a great big huge conveyor belt, and it dumps the salt right where it's to," Spracklin said. "If they were to truck that salt somewhere else, it would take thousands and thousands of truck loads."

Back on his balcony, Idnurm said he's not too salty about this year's views, adding that he's not planning to stick around for the winter to reap the benefits and drive on safer St. John's roads.

"The view's not good this year but most years, it is," he said.

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