Avoiding slicker shock

LISBON – While other communities are faced with skyrocketing road salt prices, Columbiana County Engineer Bert Dawson was able to acquire 80 percent of his supply in May, when prices were half of what they are now.

Dawson purchased 3,200 tons of salt in the spring for $54.95 per ton compared to the $102.70 or more faced by many local governments seeking to buy salt now.

The lower pricing was made available through the Ohio Department of Transportation’s summer purchasing program, which allows local governments to purchase road salt from ODOT based on its 2013-14 salt contract.

The county paid $34.45 per ton last winter. “We still paid premium pricing (in May) compared to last year but nothing like it is now,” Dawson said.

The county normally purchases 3,100 tons per season but used 4,000 tons during the unusually harsh winter this past year. Dawson wants to acquire 4,000 tons, so the 3,200 represents 80 percent of that goal.

Dawson said they were able to take advantage of ODOT’s summer pricing program because they constructed salt storage buildings last year at the department’s main location in Lisbon as well as at satellite garages in North Georgetown and Glenmoor. This allows the county to keep more salt out of the weather, with it being stored until needed.

“The salt bins really helped,” he said.

Chief Deputy County Engineer Bob Durbin said most local governments are unable to take advantage of the summer purchasing program because they lack salt storage facilities. Salt stored outside is impacted by the rain, which can cause it to wash away or clump together.

“If you buy early in the year you better have a storage building,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have three salt storage buildings and this the first year we were able to do this.”

Local governments have the option of purchasing salt through ODOT or seeking their own bids from suppliers. Had the county waited, it would face the same prices as cities, villages and townships. These prices, which range from $102 per ton to $148, reflect the new pricing for the upcoming winter.

Local governments had until Aug. 22 to accept the bids obtained through ODOT or the state can decide to seek new bids, which could result in even higher prices. This is unlikely to occur because officials fear the prices could increase even more.

Meanwhile, Dawson is working with the county port authority on a plan that might make salt available to local governments in the county at a lower price. He said the communities located along the Ohio River seem to be able to purchase salt at lower prices because the salt is transported by barge, which is cheaper than other modes of transportation.

The port authority operates a riverfront terminal in Wellsville, which is under lease to Pier 48 Stevedoring. Dawson said he and port authority CEO Tracy Drake are working, if the price is right, to get salt transported by barge to Pier 48, where it could be purchased by local governments.

“If we could get a half barge full then the townships and everyone could buy it from us,” he said.

The price increase is attributed to a lack of salt because the past winter left supplies depleted. Meanwhile, ODOT’s director has asked the governor’s office to arrange a meeting with salt suppliers.

Cargill and Morton Salt are the only two companies that mine rock salt in Ohio, and both are the subject of a collusion lawsuit filed by the state in 2012 that officials claim resulted in higher prices. Dawson is credited with helping start the investigation by questioning the companies’ bidding practices. A jury trial is scheduled for May 2015 in Tuscarawas County.