Hats off to Columbiana County Engineer Bert Dawson whose alertness and vigilance may result in this county, as well as several others, recouping some of the money we allegedly overpaid for road salt.
A lawsuit filed by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine last week began when Dawson noticed some inconsistent pricing by two salt distributors - Cargill and Morton.
The antitrust lawsuit claims the two companies colluded to divide up Ohio counties among themselves and in doing so increased costs for the road departments purchasing salt from them.
The suit alleges the two companies agreed to divvy up the counties where they competed for bids and intentionally submitted "sham" bids to conceal their actions between 2000 and 2010. The companies did this by convincing government purchasers they were providing competitive bids in two-thirds of the state.
Cargill and Morton are also accused of using the scheme to exclude other salt companies from competing in other parts of the state by misusing the "Buy Ohio" law adopted by the state legislature, which gives preference to Ohio-based products when there are least two competing bidders.
The companies have denied the allegations.
Dawson and several other county engineers launched their own investigation after salt prices began to skyrocket late last decade. They began comparing notes and discovered questionable bidding practices.
Dawson reported his findings to the state and the Ohio Department of Transportation, through which counties receive salt bids, asked the state inspector general's office to investigate. The inspector general issued a report in January 2011 saying the bidding practices of Cargill and Morton created a monopoly between them.
When DeWine took office, Dawson sent him a letter concerning the inspector general's report and that resulted in the filing of the lawsuit.
Depending on the outcome of the suit, the county and local governments may have money returned to them.
Dawson is to be commended for keeping abreast of the pricing situation and following through with his suspicions until action was taken. Good work.