a this Sept. 16, 2014 photo salt is unloaded at the Scio
Township, Mich. maintenance yard. The rewards for surviving
last year's punishing winter are tight supplies of road salt
and some drastic price spikes for the commodity across much
of the U.S. as the next cold season approaches. Some Midwest
county road officials are facing price increases that are
twice or more _ even five times _ what they paid last year
if they can get it. Increases of at least 20 percent have
been common in cities including Boston and Raleigh, North
DETROIT — The
reward for surviving last winter's frigid temperatures and record
snowfall, several states are learning, is drastic price increases
for road salt — and that's if they can even get it.
stockpiles is proving challenging, especially for some Midwestern
states, after salt supplies were depleted to tame icy roads last
winter. And price increases of at least 20 percent have been
common in places including Boston and Raleigh, North Carolina.
is kind of scrambling around right now, contacting anybody they
know who may have some salt available," said Fred Pausch,
chief of the County Engineers Association of Ohio.
governments are avoiding the problem thanks to multi-year
contracts or secured bids. Chicago, for example, used roughly
three times more salt last winter — 436,000 tons — than it did
in 2012-2013, but the city has locked-in rates based on a contract
negotiated a few years ago.
aren't so lucky.
In Ohio, where
more than 1 million tons of salt was used on state roads last year
— a nearly 60 percent increase over the average — last year's
average price was $35 per ton. This year, 15 counties received
bids of more than $100 per ton, and 10 counties received no bids
Most of Ohio's 88
counties have locked in prices between $50 and $80 per ton. To
ease the pain for other counties, the state recently secured about
170,000 tons of additional salt.
for salt is simply outpacing the supply that is available,"
said Steve Faulkner, spokesman for the Ohio Department of
In Michigan, like
Ohio, local governments are allowed to join a network for bidding
purposes, and the state seeks competitive bids each year from four
vendors. But even those efforts couldn't prevent a spike: Michigan
has seen prices jump by 46 percent, to $65 per ton.
On a recent
weekday outside Detroit, a massive dump truck backed into a domed
building and dropped about 50 tons of road salt onto a growing
mound at a facility operated by the Washtenaw County Road
Commission. The agency is paying $76 a ton for its preseason
fill-up compared to about $34 last year, a 120 percent jump.
Part of the
problem is that salt mines are being challenged by numerous local
governments "trying to replenish their supply at the same
time," said Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute, a
trade group based in suburban Washington, D.C.
"It's just a
situation where you can't necessarily get all the salt mined and
get it where it needs to go as fast as it's demanded," she
said, noting that the group doesn't collect information related to
prices or production issues.
officials, that translates into having to conserve and be
creative. In many places, brine is added to salt to boost its
effectiveness. Officials also are buying trucks that can, among
other things, spread salt in the morning and clean streets later
in the day.
capital city, which was left with about 10 percent of its
4,000-ton salt capacity after Raleigh was hit by more winter
storms than usual, recently signed a three-year contract for salt
costing about $110 per ton annually. That's a 25 percent increase,
according to city officials.
And in Indiana,
road salt bids have increased by an average of 57 percent, ranging
from nearly $73 to $106 per ton.
Boston is among
those breathing a sigh of relief. Interim Public Works
Commissioner Mike Dennehy, dubbed Boston's "snow czar,"
said the city bought about 80 percent of its capacity at last
season's cheaper prices of $45 and $49 a ton. The city will be
charged this winter's prices, which are about 20 percent higher,
for the rest of its supply.
In Ohio, road
officials are keeping their fingers crossed.
"We just had
the worst winter in Ohio," Faulkner said. "We're
preparing for that, but we hope it's like the one we had two
winters ago, which was one of the mildest."