Road salt stockpiles get smaller

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 February 2014 at 12:00 am

‘Old-fashioned winter’ drives up costs for salt, OT

Photo by Tom Rivers – A Village of Albion plow truck was out in early February after another snow storm.

The cold and snow hit hard around around Thanksgiving and it has stuck around since, with little breaks in the frigid temperatures.

The unrelenting winter has kept local municipal highway crews busy. Their stockpiles of road salt are shrinking, while costs climb for overtime and fuel for the plow trucks.

“It’s been one of the longest winters that I can remember,” said Ed Morgan, Murray highway superintendent. “It started right after Thanksgiving and it’s been steady.”

Murray typically uses 1,000 to 1,200 tons of road salt a year. The town has already gone through 1,300 to 1,400 tons this winter, Morgan said.

He has 400 left in the highway storage shed. The town might buy another 400 tons, in addition to its stockpile.

The town of Barre has the most roads to work on in the county with 62 miles of town, plus 20 miles of county roads. Barre usually uses 1,200 to 1,400 tons of salt and is up to about 2,100 tons so far this winter, said Dale Ostroski, the town highway superintendent.

Last evening was a rare chance for him to be home. The highway crews have been working at all hours of the day, plowing and salting roads.

Ostroski said he has enough salt stored to last until the end of winter.

“We can get through it,” he said.

Some municipalities in the state and outside New York worry they will run out of salt. They are scrambling to get more. February and March often have days with temperatures near freezing, when salt should be deployed.

Local highway chiefs interviewed say they are in “good shape” with their salt supply. Many of the towns entered the winter with deep reserves. The previous two winters were far less demanding, which allowed the salt stockpiles to grow.

Some days have been so cold that towns actually didn’t use salt. When it drops below 15 degrees, salt doesn’t work. It needs moisture to activate, said Roger Wolfe, Yates highway superintendent.

Some of the recent sub-zero days actually were too cold for the municipalities to spread salt, although some use a mix that can be effective as low as 0 degrees.

Wolfe said the towns would have used more salt if the sub-zero temps had been in the teens or the 20s.

Yates has about 500 or 600 tons left for the winter. It plows 72 miles of roads.

“We’ve used more salt than in the previous two years,” Wolfe said.

He is thankful he has salt storage facilities that allowed the town to have a sizable stockpile. Other municipalities in the state have smaller storage sheds, forcing them to do frequent orders for salt. Many salt suppliers are only giving partial orders right now. Companies such as American Rock Salt in Livingston County are trying to serve as many customers as possible by giving them smaller salt orders.

The Village of Albion has used about 1,400 tons of salt so far, about 400 more than in an average winter, said Dale Brooks, the DPW superintendent. The village pays $42 a ton. The municipalities buy the salt on a state bid.

They have to buy at least 70 percent of their contract. In a light winter, like the previous two, the towns and villages will see their stockpiles grow.

They can keep the $42 price for up to 120 percent of their contract. After that, the price increases. Brooks said the village had about 500 tons stockpiled before the winter.

He had hoped to buy 800 tons this winter, but the December ice storms “burned up our salt.”

“We haven’t seen something like this in 15 or 20 years,” he said. “It’s an old-fashioned winter.”

A few warmer days beginning today doesn’t mean the highway crews will get to rest easy. The deep freeze and thaw has cracked roads and created many sizable potholes. The highway superintendents say they will be out with their crews trying to patch some of the roads.