By Staff Writers
Rock salt is becoming a valuable commodity for local governments as supply shortages drive up prices.
Increased demand for salt has caused the shortage, forcing cities and other entities to pay much higher prices if they can even get it, local officials said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation, which maintains state routes and interstate highways, is training its drivers how to spread salt more efficiently while making sure it is equally distributed on both sides of the road, ODOT District 3 spokesman Brian Stacy said. Before salt is spread, a machine will wet it so it is more likely to stay in the middle of the lanes where motorists drive.
Medina Service Director Nino Piccoli, pictured inside one of the cityâ€™s salt bins, says road salt isnâ€™t easy to obtain this year. (Andrew Dolph | Staff Photographer)
Starting this season, all ODOT trucks will be equipped with a new weather-monitoring program that tracks where and how much snow, sleet and freezing rain is falling, he said.
By purchasing salt early, Medina County Engineer Mike Salay said his office was able to purchase salt at $36 a ton, The county purchases its road salt as part of a co-op with ODOT, which can negotiate a lower price since ODOT purchases more than 500,000 tons a year. Medina County is part of ODOTâ€™s District 3.
When deciding how much to purchase, Salay said he looks at what was used the previous year and if there was any left over that could be used this year.
â€œYou never know what kind of winter youâ€™ll have,â€ he said, adding the county has purchased 10,000 tons of salt this year.
In previous years, he said drivers sometimes applied too much salt, which is a waste of money and causes roads to deteriorate faster. Drivers now will focus on placing salt on hills, curves and intersections.
â€œWe donâ€™t want to over-apply just because we have it,â€ Salay said.
Road salt is even more expensive for cities and villages because they purchase much less than the state or county. For example, Seville has purchased 150 tons, Streets Superintendent John Sobczak said, but it could be expensive if he needs to order more.
â€œSalt seems to be two to three times more than last year,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re hearing a lot of excuses out there. You name it, we had it thrown at us.â€
The village was able to purchase its salt for about $42 a ton because it also participates in a co-op with other villages and smaller communities. To store more, Sobczak said village employees cleaned out an extra shed.
â€” Allison Wood
The timing couldnâ€™t have been better for Brunswick Service Director Sam Scaffide.
After hearing the price of salt was going to rise, Scaffide decided to call ODOT on Sept. 30 to see when prices were expected to increase.
â€œI knew it was coming up,â€ he said. â€œOn a whim I said, â€˜Let me call and see when prices are going up.â€™ â€
ODOT informed Scaffide he had 10 minutes to place his order. Prices were going to rise on Oct. 1, just a day away.
Scaffide went back and forth on the phone with Finance Director Bill White and City Manager Bob Zienkowski, scrambling to buy the salt before the price went up.
Scaffide managed to buy the salt at the lower price of $44.26 per ton, purchasing 3,200 tons of salt for $110,000. The lower price is still $10.27 higher than last year, and Brunswick is facing budget constraints this winter, Scaffide said. For that reason, he said the city is still going to have to put residents on a â€œlow-salt dietâ€ this winter.
In a memo to city council and the mayor, Scaffide said trucks no longer would salt back streets.
â€œWe will continue to plow these streets as usual, however, salt will be limited to the intersections, curves and hills only,â€ he said in the memo.
Salt use will be limited between midnight and 4 a.m., but main and secondary streets will be plowed as usual, the memo said.
Last year, the city purchased nearly 8,000 tons of salt for $271,000. Purchasing that amount this year would have cost the city $352,500, a difference of $81,500, he said.
At this point, the cityâ€™s two salt sheds are filled, Scaffide said. However, the city might have to purchase more later in the season â€œdepending on how the winter goes,â€ he said.
â€” Lisa Hlavinka
Salt supplies for Medina are running low this year, Service Director Nino Piccoli said, and the seriousness of the issue smacked home this month when three main salt suppliers said they could not provide salt this winter.
With the entire state conserving its salt supply, Piccoli was anticipating higher bids, but the three salt companies â€” Morton Salt, North American Salt and Cargill â€” who usually bid every year, sent letters indicating they werenâ€™t able to bid at all, Piccoli said.
While there are other options for ice treatment, such as cinders and sand, neither will actually help dissolve ice, Mayor Jane Leaver said.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t do anything to cut ice, it just provides traction,â€ she said. â€œAnd it will wash into the storm sewers and clog them.â€
Piccoli said the city has two trucks with liquid calcium capabilities, which helps speed up the process of activating rock salt, but it has to be mixed with salt, leaving the city in the same predicament.
â€œWe have the money, the employees and equipment, we just donâ€™t have the guarantee of salt,â€ Leaver said. â€œThis leaves us with two options â€” rely on ODOT or pay the market rate. Those figures have been tossed around between $100 and $200 per ton.â€
Like other cities and townships in the state, Medina has the option of piggybacking on ODOTâ€™s salt supply, Piccoli said, adding each year the city estimates how much salt it will need, lets ODOT know, and then is obligated to buy 50 percent of its salt from the state contract with Cargill.
It takes 400 tons of salt and costs $17,704 to go through the entire city one time, Piccoli said.
Last year, Piccoli said the city spent around $281,000 on salt. His estimation to ODOT this year is around 6,500 tons at $44.26 per ton.
Other salt vendors have called Piccoli in the last week with quotes up to $160 per ton, he said.
In addition, he said he is looking into materials such as haydite, which mixes with rock salt and stretches out the life of the salt.
â€œItâ€™s an additive â€¦ that helps with traction and moisture,â€ Piccoli said, but noted itâ€™s getting more expensive as well.
If need be, Piccoli said the city will conserve salt by concentrating mostly on high-traffic streets, intersections, hills and curves.
Leaver added: â€œWe are in the same predicament as every other municipality in Northeast Ohio from what I can gather.â€
â€” Cassandra Shofar
Wadsworth Service Director Chris Easton said the city belongs to the Community University Education purchasing association, which bought salt from Cargill and offered it to Wadsworth for $45 a ton.
Last year, the city was close to running out of salt, Easton said.
â€œWe were challenged due to the length of â€¦ that one storm,â€ he said, referring to the March snowstorm.
This year, however, Easton expressed confidence the city will have enough salt. Right now the city has a third of the salt supply on hand and will buy the rest on an as-needed basis. Wadsworth doesnâ€™t have the storage capacity to buy all the salt for the winter at once, Easton explained.
He said Wadsworth has been experimenting with pre-wetting materials to lessen the amount of salt needed. Using pre-wetting materials also enables the salt to break down the ice at a lower temperature, Easton said.
â€” Caterina Guinta
Westfield Township, like Wadsworth, belongs to the CUE, said Lee Evans of the townshipâ€™s road maintenance department. It received 500 tons of salt for $41.87 a ton from Cargill, Evans said. The salt should last through January or February depending on the winter, he added.
Evans said he ordered his salt last year.
â€œAt the end of the storm (in March), I ordered enough for the coming year,â€ he said. â€œI knew the prices would go up because I have seen fuel go up.â€
â€” Caterina Guinta
Mayor Tom Ramey said Spencer is stockpiling its salt this year. The village bought 50 tons of salt from Willow Vale Farms Inc. for about $61 a ton â€” enough to last the village through next year, Ramey said.
Willow Vale Farm is a trucking company the village buys stone and sand from, Ramey said, and this year Willow Vale bought salt in the summer, so the village chose to buy from it. The price is about $20 more a ton than last year, however, he said.
The snowstorm in March didnâ€™t affect Spencer like other parts of the county, Ramey said; in fact, the village has some salt left.
â€œWe had at least 10 to 15 tons left,â€ he said. â€œOur council had the good fortune to look into it last year.â€
â€” Caterina Guinta