Satellite facilities: How to meet tomorrow's needs today

R. Mark DeVries
Superintendent of Operations
McHenry County Highway Department
Woodstock, Illinois

Is your facility inadequate? Do you need additional storage for salt and other winter products? Are your operations hampered by having only one location? Does your equipment sit outside due to lack of space? Is the idea of an additional facility or facilities appealing but budget and constraints won't allow it? Here are some ideas of how one county is dealing with the situation.

Satellite facilities are commonly needed when a department needs to expand due to growth or when operations become hampered by roadway congestion. The need for an additional site is often a reaction to a bad situation. The new facility is commonly designed to meet the immediate needs of the municipality and may not take into account consideration for future expansion. The size and type of the facility are often dictated by funding and, again, may only meet the immediate warrants.

So how do you justify building a site that will meet your department's needs 20 years from now? How can you justify a large salt storage facility that will meet your organization's needs for years to come? How can you fund a site which has a greater capacity than you currently require?

McHenry County, in northern Illinois, is faced with this exact situation. McHenry County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. The county's road system is expanding at a tremendous rate as well. Two-lane highways with low traffic volumes have now become five-lane roadways with ADTs at or above 50,000 vehicles per day. Multi-lane roadways congested with traffic have caused major problems, especially during winter operations. Travel times to and from the facility have increased and additional lane miles require the need for additional anti-icing materials. The result is a reduced level of service to the motoring public.

To deal with this situation, McHenry County entered into intergovernmental agreements with seven local agencies, the Illinois DOT, and the Illinois Toll Authority. The agreements enable McHenry County to store salt for winter use on the agencies' sites. While this service is invaluable, it was not the solution to the problems. Most of the facilities are small and hold a very small amount of material. Some of the facilities are inadequate for the agency itself. In critical situations and in major storms, the materials run low or out and county plows are not allowed to use the materials. None of the facilities is capable of storing liquids and most of the other agencies' winter operations differ from the hours of operation for the county.

Aside from winter operations, McHenry County needed additional storage room for equipment and a location to securely park equipment during summer months.

The answer lies in building satellite facilities in various parts of the county. Not wanting to make a mistake and build a facility that would only meet the current needs, McHenry County looked at the big picture. Other agencies needed to expand as well, but had very limited budgets. McHenry County was able to secure agreements with a local municipality and with the State of Illinois to lease portions of a facility that the county will construct for an extended period of time. To accommodate the needs of these other agencies the facility would have to be three times larger and the salt dome must hold three times as much. While the initial cost is higher, the lease will allow the county to recover 50% of the cost of construction by the time the lease terminates. At the end of the lease the county may renew the lease or opt to take over a portion or the entire facility. This is the benefit—no need to expand the facility or build a second dome because it was built big enough to begin with.

This multi-use facility will be a benefit to the entire area. Besides the two leasing agencies, as many as three other agencies may acquire salt and liquid deicing materials from this new site. The site will be equipped with a scale and a liquid dispensing system that will record materials used. The other agencies will be billed for the materials at a reasonable rate which includes maintenance or handling fees.

The multi-use facility owned by McHenry County was so well accepted that other sites are being developed by the county using the same concept. Perhaps your agency can use this concept as well.

You need to start by securing a site. When choosing a site, it is important to consider who you will be working with. Do you want to own the facility or do you want to lease from another agency? What do you have to offer to make it a reality? In some cases, land may be donated. Be sure the parcel is large enough. Also, consider the area and residents, especially if snow removal and night operations are involved. Drainage is a big concern; all runoff should be contained onsite.

  Salt dome with a below-grade conveyor system

Once you have a site, develop a site plan. Involve the other agencies. Consider how and what the site will be used for. When dealing with snow removal, it is vital to set up the site with a smooth flow pattern. A salt dome with a below-grade conveyor system is highly recommended. This allows you the maximum amount of salt storage using the least amount of room. The below-grade conveyor system allows salt delivery trucks to dump and go with very little cleanup. The vehicle storage facility should be divided into sections allowing each agency its own section. In McHenry County's case, a wash bay at the end of the facility will be a common area where an end loader will be stored for all agencies to use.

Funding can certainly be an issue. Again, you need to think outside the box. There are other means besides getting other agencies to participate in leases. Part of the site could be a parking area for a program like Park and Ride. Perhaps your site is remote and a radio or cell tower can be constructed on it. There are many other sources for funding as well.

With budget constraints and expanding departments, we all need to look at the bigger picture and start thinking of how we can work together to accomplish our goals.

R. Mark DeVries can be reached at (815) 334-4975 or at

The publication Snow and Ice Control Manual for Transportation Facilities explains how to hone techniques and curb costs while providing safe and effective snow and ice control service. It can be ordered online at or call the Member Services Hotline at (800) 848-APWA, ext. 3560.