Seattle's ban on rock salt to thaw icy roads had been in place for more than a decade when Mayor Greg Nickels announced he would allow its...

Seattle’s ban on rock salt to thaw icy roads had been in place for more than a decade when Mayor Greg Nickels announced he would allow its use if necessary under limited circumstances.

In announcing the new policy Jan. 31, Nickels explained that the policy was rooted in concern for the environment, specifically chinook salmon.

What Nickels didn’t say is the city’s transportation department already had accepted 61.5 tons of rock salt from a supplier in three deliveries in December, records show.

Drivers told The Seattle Times that the salt was used to keep sand from freezing in the truck-mounted spreaders, but because of the policy, it was not used in concentrations that would have helped clear roads.

Richard Sheridan, a department spokesman, said the department didn’t know it was getting salt from its supplier.

“We took possession believing it to be Ice Slicer,” Sheridan said, referring to a granular product that has some ice-melting properties.

But James Hand, president of America West, the Pasco company that delivered the salt, said, “They knew they were getting it. We made it clear to them that Ice Slicer was unavailable, and the quickest product we could give them was regular road salt.”

In defending its anti-salt policy, the department claimed sand was better for the environment than salt.

Experts told The Times that the extensive cleanup associated with sanding requires cities to closely track the areas where sand is applied.

Seattle Department of Transportation records show there was little effort to keep detailed records of where the sand had been applied, and that the city expected to clean up only about 30 percent of the sand it dropped.

The city mounted an aggressive cleanup of sand, and even hired a private contractor to help, after it became a safety issue for bicyclists and motorcyclists.

The city says it has swept up more than 10,000 tons of the more than 12,000 tons it dropped.

Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or skelleher@seattletimes.com