With win­ter loom­ing, salt­ing roads gets costly, of­fi­cials say

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - News - BY MICHAEL HILL

Bud­get-bust­ing road salt prices are leav­ing mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials in the Snow Belt hop­ing for a mild win­ter.

Salt sup­plies are tight on the heels of a harsh win­ter last year that de­pleted re­serves, leav­ing many lo­cal­i­ties in the North­east and Great Lakes to pay prices that range from about 5 per­cent higher to al­most dou­ble.

“Every­body’s got their fingers crossed for good weather,” said Re­becca Matsco, an of­fi­cial in west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia’s Beaver County, where one con­tract price came in at $109 a ton, 95 per­cent higher than last year.

The in­creases are frus­trat­ing to lo­cal of­fi­cials who are locked into tight bud­gets. Some high­way su­per­in­ten­dents say they could choose to make their salt sup­plies last by mix­ing in more sand, which is cheaper. And oth­ers say it could force them to de­fer other road projects. But they can’t stop salt­ing slick roads.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re go­ing to stop salt­ing, it just means that it’s go­ing to be more ex­pen­sive to get th­ese ma­te­ri­als,” said Jack Cun­ning­ham, pub­lic works com­mis­sioner in the Al­bany, New York, sub­urb of Colonie, which is get­ting a rel­a­tive bar­gain through a state con­tract of $62 a ton, a mere 5 per­cent in­crease from last year.

Ohio’s Lake Town­ship, which is pay­ing about $90 a ton, says the good news is that it started the snow sea­son with about 85 per­cent of what it needed in stor­age. That town’s road su­per­in­ten­dent, Daniel Kamerer, says he also em­ploys a tech­nique to make the salt go fur­ther – moist­en­ing the salt with brine or other liq­uids to make it stick to the road rather than bounc­ing off.

Or­ders can cover thou­sands of tons, and the prices lo­cal­i­ties pay­ing now per ton vary widely based on the sup­plier, vol­ume, ship­ping costs and other fac­tors. Of­fi­cials in snowy Syra­cuse, New York, for in­stance, re­port flat costs af­ter ex­tend­ing a con­tract from last year.

Pro­duc­tion is­sues at two ma­jor North Amer­i­can salt mines have con­trib­uted to tight sup­plies.

Cargill is ad­dress­ing a leak in a salt mine 1,800 feet un­der Lake Erie off Cleve­land, one of three U.S. mines the com­pany op­er­ates. Com­pany spokesman Justin Bar­ber said it is work­ing to fix leak­age, but “it’s low­er­ing our salt pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity for this win­ter sea­son.”

There also was an 11week strike this year at the largest un­der­ground op­er­at­ing salt mine in the world, the Goderich mine un­der Lake Huron, off On­tario. Pro­duc­tion slowed due to the strike but is now back up, said Tara Hefner, a spokes­woman for Com­pass Min­er­als.

One bright spot: Snow belt towns might get their wish for an eas­ier win­ter. The Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued an out­look last month that said con­di­tions could be warmer and drier this win­ter in parts of the North.

Still, there have been a cou­ple of early sea­son storms al­ready.

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