City Desk

Meet the District’s Useless Snow Melter


This is a snow melter. Its purpose, you might guess, is to melt snow. Earlier this month, the District saw much snow. This snow melter melted none of it. Rather, it sat, not melting snow, on a city lot.

All this was revealed by WRC-TV's Tom Sherwood, who reports that the city purchased the contraption in 2003 to handle the city's last huge snowfall. "The $120,000 snowbot could take 10 dump truck loads at a time and was pretty efficient, even though it broke down at least once during operation," reads his item. So what gives?

City officials declined a request for an on-camera interview, saying in a statement the snow melter needed parts, was difficult to operate and wasn't worth using again. So it sits on the city's public works lot.

Why isn't it worth it? Using the melter would have had environmental benefits, since the runoff could be piped into sewers and treated at Blue Plains, rather than melting directly into the Anacostia River, which is what the snow trucked out of downtown this month is doing.

And if that still isn't worth it, why not sell it/give it away to some municipality that could fix it and use it? (Probably not in the Dominican Republic, but you get the idea.)

Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham plans to explore the snow-melter issue at upcoming oversight hearings.

Photo courtesy of Tom Sherwood

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  • downtown rez

    It was a waste to purchase this impractical tool in the first place. Even one of these requires many hundreds of gallons of diesel to operate. Let alone the fact that you'd need hundreds of dump truck runs to even get the snow to the thing. And you'd need dozens of these and tens of thousands of dump truck runs before the neighborhoods at large would have felt any impact.

    They are white elephants. Even serious snow-cities (like Boston) are moving away from them. We should eBay the thing and hope someone picks up the tab for shipping.

  • Contrarian

    Let's see... this thing was mothballed by DPW's fleet management and after the DECEMBER snowfall no one thought to be prepared with an estimate of the $$ to fix it. Of course, because a) nobody would discover it and b) you know, reporters are too dumb to ask about it.

    So DPW should have sold it. They could have used the $$ for additional plows/loaders that DO work to clean up the snow. And they aren't such white elephants that National and Dulles aiports used snow melters this month to remove snow.

  • downtown rez

    Good point. I was talking to one of the contractors out of Boston, and his nice new Bobcat cost him $47K. I imagine eBaying that 7 year old broken snow melter might make a nice downpayment on that, if DC could find a buyer.

  • Anon

    Man, I didn't know DC had one of those things. The City of Baltimore rented one from Canada for far less and it served them pretty well. DC could make a killing doing the same to other jurisdictions in times of lean snowfall. Just sayin'

  • Rick Mangus

    I knew Baltimore had a pair of these but did not know we had one here.

    Hey!, Jim Graham, aka (The Queen of All Media), hold hearings, you got to be kidding me, for what, the city FUCKED-UP!, is this a ploy to get your ass on TV?

    To the socialist prick, Tommy Wells is this the kind of items to be purchased with your BAG TAX? An item Never to be used, but sitting in a lot with weeds growing up around it at a cost to the hard working people of DC.

    Congress PLEASE bring back the CONTROL BOARD!!!!

    "Father fogive them for they know not what they do!, because they are morons!

  • Fred

    Snow blowers, snow melters - ban them all! We don't get enough of the stuff on average to advocate for fun killers like those!

  • Keith

    I know NYC has a couple of these snow-melters. They usually park them dead smack in the middle of Times Square and they use front end loaders to feed them. They seem pretty efficient up there, why couldnt we park them in strategic locations throughout the city and do the same here?

  • HCM

    Simple, No continuity between outgoing and incoming DC Governments. Like everything else, there probably was alot of hoopla in acquiring the equipment, what new truck hasn't Fenty sat in the seat and spin the wheel? Unfortunately, DC Govt is famous for 'unwarapping' new 'toys' and putting them in mothballs for lack of batteries. Budget woes and edicts from Fenty to agency heads not to spend (or suffer the consequences) causes such embarassments. RIF's to the DC DPW could be the reason there is no one to operate or repair the "Green" Snow melter.