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Salt supplies, funds dwindle during relentless winter

Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
New Kensington Street Department truck driver Dave Zawrotny picks up a load of salt for one of the dump trucks at the New Kensington city garage on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. With far more snow and ice than normal this winter, the New Kensington Street Department has already used $140,000 of the $150,000 that has been allotted for road salt.

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State lends 6,000 tons

PennDOT said Tuesday it lent more than 6,000 tons of road salt to other government agencies that have experienced harsh winter conditions deplete their stockpiles.

Salt borrowers included Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh International Airport and seven other municipalities across the state.

“We are never going to sacrifice safety on the roadway. We do what we need to do to keep people moving,” said PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt. “They do need to give that salt back to us once they get their deliveries.”

PennDOT has about 382,000 tons of salt stockpiled. The agency goes through about 800,000 tons in an average year, but had plowed through 685,000 tons as of Jan. 27.

Bobby Kerlik, Trib Total Media

Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 12:21 a.m.

Many Alle-Kiski Valley communities will spend more money for road salt than they have budgeted this year, but they may be the fortunate ones.

At least they have road salt.

West Deer has the money to buy more salt, but supply is a problem.

The township has used about $220,000 worth — just in January.

Although the township has salt on hand, suppliers on Tuesday refused to send more, Township Manager Daniel Mator said.

The township's main supplier is having trouble getting salt shipped to Freeport and other river terminals.

“Money isn't the issue,” he said. “It's the supply. If it keeps going like this with frequent, smaller snows, then we won't have enough to last a full month.”

Still, Mator said, “Some governments are worse off than we are. We called the supplier three times today, and we were caller numbers 39, 60 and 70. A lot of governments are calling.”

Mator will check with other suppliers if that's needed.

Expert: Not supply problem, but distribution

“It's not the supply that's the problem. The real problem is the distribution,” said Morton Satin, vice president of science and research at the Salt Institute in Alexandria, Va. “It's a combination of everyone wants it now, and it's the hardest time of the year to get it because of the weather. ... Now we're in a situation where the pipeline is backed up.”

Little storms add up

Unlike some years, there have been no major storms to wreak havoc.

Lower Burrell Public Works Director Scott Johnson sums up the cause of the problem for many towns: “It's the repetitive 1-inch, 2-inch snows.”

Lower Burrell has used about 2,700 tons of salt this season.

“Historically, 2,300 tons was the most we've had to use,” said Johnson, the public works director. “It's the repetitive 1-inch, 2-inch snows.”

The city has been using salt mixed with anti-skid material and has enough salt for at least a month.

“After that, we'll have to get creative,” he said.

New Kensington has spent about $140,000 of the $150,000 it has budgeted for salt.

City crews have spread about 3,000 tons of salt so far this winter. It has about 600 tons waiting to be delivered, said City Clerk Dennis F. Scarpiniti.

That may or may not be enough to last the winter.

But, Scarpiniti noted, “We still have (next) November and December to worry about, too.”

Scarpiniti said the city will transfer funds from other line items as needed.

By Tuesday, Allegheny Township had spent about $112,000 of its $115,000 salt budget, said Township Manager Greg Primm.

“We have some salt and more is on the way,” he said. “We'll probably have to use the fund balance.” he said.Public Works Director Steve Kanas said two orders have been placed and some salt arrived on Tuesday.

Things might also get tight in Arnold.

Before today's storm arrived, the city had spent about $20,000 of the $25,000 it had budgeted for salt.

“We have enough on hand for next week or two,” said City Clerk Floyd “Lucky” Newingham. “We have about 600 tons, and about 515 tons has been used so far.”

Arnold's contract allows it to buy about 20 percent more salt than it ordered, so there is the ability to get more — if its supplier can provide it.

“I think we'll be really close,” he said.

It will be also close for Bell Township officials.The township already has used about 700 tons this year and it has about 100 to 150 tons left, said Roadmaster Kevin Long.

Worrying about supply wasn't his only headache.

He was busy Tuesday trying to replace a broken axle on a plow truck.

Saxonburg budgeted $7,500 for salt. About 65 percent has been used so far, said roads Superintendent Tom Knight. Another truckload is due. Saxonburg started the storm with about 20 tons in its bin and an option to buy another 40 tons.

Tarentum crews have used about 550 tons of its first 600-ton order.

“We have used about 95 percent of the $25,000 we budgeted,” Borough Manager Bill Rossey said.

Still, supply isn't a problem. It just received another 200 tons with another 100 tons on order.

Even though Vandergrift started 2014 with about 150 tons of salt left over from last year, it has used close to 900 tons so far this year — much more than last year.

The borough has spent about $60,000 thus far.

“We're about $15,000 over budget,” said Councilman Vern Sciullo.

The borough has about 100 tons in storage and will buy more if needed, he said.

Gilpin's road crew isn't worried about salt.

“We have more tar-and-chip roads and salt would damage them. So we use ashes,” said township secretary Sharon Long.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711. Bobby Kerlik of Trib Total Media contributed to this report.

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