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Archive for Monday, June 11, 2012

Some cities are stockpiling road salt

June 11, 2012

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DES MOINES, IOWA — Iowa is stockpiling salt for winter even before summer arrives.

Although the state is coming off one of the mildest winters on record, officials aren’t taking any chances. They’re preparing for blizzards and snow-covered roads.

The state’s road salt supplies are filling up quickly and at bargain prices, The Des Moines Register reported. Four years ago, there was a salt shortage and prices skyrocketed after a harsh winter.

The Iowa Department of Transportation, which plows nearly 9,000 miles of state highways, has more than 231,000 tons of salt in storage — an amount that exceeds capacity, officials said.

The department is still buying salt under terms of a previously negotiated contract, but the price will drop under a new purchasing agreement, officials said.

Last winter, the DOT used more than 50,700 tons of salt — just 21 percent of the seasonal average, spokeswoman Dena Gray-Fisher said.

Des Moines has just purchased 6,000 tons of salt and its storage facility will be full in about two weeks. West Des Moines also is stocking up.

“Salt companies didn’t move a lot of product over the winter, so it’s been pretty favorable for us,” said West Des Moines Public Works Director Bret Hodne. “We are extremely well-supplied now, and we are able to take advantage of some good pricing.”

The suburb of Urbandale agreed to buy salt for just under $56 a ton from Kansas-based Hutchinson Salt Co., or 14 percent less than the average price it paid last year.

Last winter averaged 18.5 inches of snow statewide. It was the 10th-lowest snowfall in 125 years of records, state climatologist Harry Hillaker said. The average statewide temperature of about 35 degrees between November and March was the warmest five-month stretch for those months on record.

“As far as salt usage, the lack of snowfall would undoubtedly be the bigger item, but it probably helped to have the higher temperatures as well,” Hillaker said.

Demand for road salt is down nationally, said Tom Peterson, president and general manager of Central Salt, the sales and marketing arm for Lyons Salt Co. of Lyons, Kan. His company tracked winter weather in nine markets ranging from New York City to Denver and the aggregate total snowfall was the lowest on record dating to the late 1800s.

The Iowa DOT and local governments say savings from snow removal are being used for other projects.

The state and Urbandale are keeping the savings for road work. Des Moines saved about $1 million, and the money will remain in the city’s road maintenance program.

West Des Moines, which saved about $500,000, will return the money to the city’s general fund.

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