Engineer questions salt supply

By Mac Cordell

February 22, 2014

David Brand does not know how much more winter is coming, but he knows exactly how much salt should be on the way.

The Madison County Engineer is hoping there is more of the latter and less of the former.

Brand said the county is expecting another 500 tons of road salt with another “couple of hundred tons” mixed and in the barns already.

“We still have 500 tons and then we are done,” said Brand. “We are trying to make it through with that.”

He said local governments had been expecting help from the state.

Earlier this month, the Ohio Department of Transportation attempted to order an additional 150,000 tons to sell to counties and other local governments.

“On Feb. 5, ODOT asked salt companies to bid on 10,000 ton increments of salt to be delivered to seven strategic locations during three rounds,” according to a release from the state. “The intent was to receive at least 150,000 tons of road salt that ODOT could provide to local communities where some supplies are depleted. The agency planned to charge nothing for the road salt and instead was asking communities to return the salt once their supplies were replenished.”

The problem was, no companies responded to the bid request.

Brand said it is not that companies made too high of bids.

“There were no bids,” said Brand.

So the salt in the barn and the 500 tons coming, “that may be all that we get.”

“That’s a big problem that no one wants to tackle,” said Brand.

ODOT officials say they are working on it. The department has said it is “committed to assisting local communities with temporary salt supplies and is exploring alternative ways to get road salt into Ohio and provide it free of charge.”

Officials did not say how they planned to do it, only that, “More information should be available soon.”

“That’s where we are with ODOT,” said Brand. “Nobody can give us any answers. There is no solution.”

ODOT officials have said they are nearing record levels of salt usage for this winter. At the start of winter, ODOT had 627,000 tons of salt on hand — almost enough to last an through average winter.

But this winter has been anything but average.

ODOT Director Jerry Wray said the department might go through 1 million tons of salt for the first time in history.

Since the beginning of winter, ODOT has used more than 880,000 tons of salt on Ohio roadways. That amount does not include the salt counties, cities, townships and villages are using to treat roads in local communities.

The agency has ordered another 510,000 tons and can buy only 40,000 tons more under its existing contracts.

Brand said while ODOT officials were promising to help, “they were buying up all the salt in the state.”

The problem is, there isn’t much to be bought. Salt is in short supply throughout the country. Many jurisdictions, including nearly all in Ohio, are approaching record usage.

“And there are still weeks of winter to go,” said Brand. “We are not out of the woods yet.”

In fact, WCMH chief meteorologist Jym Ganahl says Aortic air and snow are on the way again.

“Several Alberta clippers will be back into the forecast Sunday, midweek, and next weekend so don’t plan on yard work or mowing lawns anytime soon,” said Ganahl. “Remember we get three or more snows after the forsythia bloom and that is a long way down the road.”

Brand said Madison County at least has salt on the way and some salt in the barn. He said many counties are not as prepared as Madison County.

“We are going to end up in a situation where if we have an ice storm in three weeks, there are going to be people that don’t have salt and people that do have salt,” said Brand. “It will be interesting to see what happens.”

Mac Cordell can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 21 or on Twitter @MacCordell.