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Melting Mitchell's ice: SD company takes de-icing to new level

Chad Van Laecken dumps a load of salt from his bobcat while Josh Frost, center, sprays the salt with a chemical byproduct of rum and vodka that makes for a more efficient deicer than standard salt and sand. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)1 / 7
Josh Frost sprays the salt with a chemical byproduct of rum and vodka after it's unloaded in front of their storage garage. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)2 / 7
Braden Puhlman opens the bottom of a trailer bed to unload salt to be treated with the chemical byproduct of rum and vodka. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)3 / 7
Chad Van Laecken dumps a load of salt from his bobcat while Josh Frost, center, sprays the salt with a chemical byproduct of rum and vodka. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)4 / 7
Jeff Shawd, left, watches as Josh Frost sprays the salt with a chemical byproduct of rum and vodka after it's unloaded in front of their storage garage. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)5 / 7
Chad Van Laecken moves a load of salt with his bobcat to be sprayed with a chemical byproduct of rum and vodka in his storage garage. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)6 / 7
Josh Frost sprays the salt with a chemical byproduct of rum and vodka after it's unloaded in front of their storage garage. (Matt Gade / Forum News Service)7 / 7

MITCHELL — Chad Van Laecken swears he can hear ice talking.

The ice "snaps and pops" every time Van Laecken spreads his specialized de-icing mixture — and he always stops to listen.

"You just hear it talking to you. It's cracking. It's crying," Van Laecken said with a satisfied smile on his face.

Van Laecken owns CE Construction, LLC in Mitchell, and after every winter storm — and sometimes beforehand, too — he spreads several tons of his de-icing mixture onto area parking lots to destroy ice left behind by the storm.

The mixture he uses is simply salt, combined with the byproduct of rum and vodka, known as Ice B'Gone Magic. The high sugar content in the product lowers the freezing temperature. By coating each kernel of the salt in the mixture, a de-icing product is created that's less corrosive and is highly effective in melting ice.

The mixture is a phenomenon slowly growing in popularity in South Dakota, which is Van Laecken's territory. Throughout the winter Van Laecken travels across the state from Rapid City to Sioux Falls, serving contractors and other buyers with his de-icing product, which is pet friendly, not hard on concrete and environmentally friendly.

"There's so many times that people slip and fall. For a young person, you can laugh about it and walk away," 50-year-old Van Laecken said. "For somebody even my age, and older than me, breaking a hip, breaking a wrist and things like that. By not treating parking lots in the weather we have, it really is a dangerous situation for normal everyday public."

The treatment process

Holding the spray nozzle, Josh Frost worked quickly as Van Laecken spread and poured salt.

It was the duo's second load of the day, and they had two more to complete before finishing the entire 26-ton load of salt that was brought Thursday to Van Laecken's home, located on the southwestern edge of Mitchell.

"It smells a little bit like teriyaki," Frost yelled.

Laughing, Frost and Van Laecken — along with help from Jeff Shawd and Braden Puhlman — continued with their routine: spread the salt, spray it and pile in the corner. Slowly, the white crystal-looking salt turned dark brown.

The amount of shipments Van Laecken receives, like the one that arrived Thursday, depends on the weather. While the weather has been nice for most of the week, a potentially large winter storm is expected Sunday, and Van Laecken wants to be prepared.

"With just the handful of snows that we've had, it's not uncommon for us to go through 14 to 20 tons a snowstorm," he said.

While Van Laecken is tasked with de-icing, Frost is charged with pushing snow. Frost is the owner of AAA Lawncare and Maintenance in Mitchell. The two joined forces when Frost was in need of a de-icing product that "actually worked," he said.

Frost has a snow removal business, and many products he tried for ice removal weren't effective, or they were "eating concrete," according to his customers. Finally, he reached out to Van Laecken.

"That's how him and I got together," Frost said, motioning to Van Laecken. "I called him up and bought a bag. It's been pretty good."

Bringing Ice B'Gone Magic to South Dakota

For years, Van Laecken pushed and moved snow. Then, one contract tasked him with melting the ice in a parking lot.

"I did just like everybody else in Mitchell. I went around to spread those little rock chips, and then every year you had a mess in your parking lot and it didn't really melt anything," Van Laecken said. " ... It forced me to go looking for a de-icing product."

He noticed nearly every product had calcium chloride, which can be dangerous, Van Laecken said, as it heats up quickly, kills gas and is often harmful on concrete.

Not wanting to use any of these products, research for a new de-icing product expanded. It was then Van Laecken and his team discovered Ice B'Gone Magic.

Anxious to try it, Van Laecken drove to Minneapolis to purchase the spray. He brought it home and gave it a go. It worked.

"When we first started using this, it worked so well. I was hooked," Van Laecken said. "I haven't used any other de-icing product but this since then."

Van Laecken started getting Ice B'Gone Magic from Iowa, and eventually ended up with the South Dakota territory, he said.

Van Laecken mainly works with contractors in Mitchell, Sioux Falls and Rapid City. But recently, he's been working on reaching the northeastern part of the state, including Huron, Aberdeen, Watertown and Brookings.

"For a little cost to de-ice will make your parking lot safe," Van Laecken said. "I wouldn't know why people wouldn't want to do it."

'A clean, dry parking lot'

Following a storm, Van Laecken can tell which lots he treated and which he didn't.

The lots that saw Van Laecken's salt treatment are often wetter as the product works to melt the ice away.

In Mitchell, Van Laecken de-ices for three or four contractors. Typically, Van Laecken sells the salt treatment by 5-gallon buckets, 50-pound bags, by the ton or even in bulk if the customer prefers. A 50-pound bag is sold for $17.99.

The salt treatment will work on ice and snow to 35 degrees below zero. Regular salt, according to Frost, works when the temperature is 15 degrees or warmer.

"If you put this on ice, and it's below 15 degrees, it isn't going to do anything," Van Laecken said. "Until you treat it, it takes it to 35 below."

And the product works before storms, too. If parking lots are pretreated with the salt mixture, it will melt between an inch to an inch and a half of snow as it falls, Van Laecken said. As cars drive into the lots and onto the mixture, it will slightly stick to tires, which carries the product throughout the lot, helping melt even more ice.

"What I like about it is you can go out, plow the snow, come in and then spread it," Frost said, adding that it is not harmful on cars. "It'll melt and usually the wind comes up and that parking lot is dry, all in that same day. You've got a clean, dry parking lot and no ice."