Region has plenty of salt for winter season
As the anniversary of the North American Blizzard of 2010 approaches, officials in the Mon Valley and neighboring Westmoreland County say their communities are well-prepared for an encore — even if forecasters hardly are anticipating one.
With temperatures expected to reach as high as 60 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday before dipping back into the seasonal range by the weekend, no one is predicting a storm like “Snowmageddon,” which dropped upwards of 2 feet of snow on the region on Feb. 5 and 6 three years ago, causing at least two deaths in McKeesport.
But no matter what nature dishes out the remainder of the winter, area municipalities will just add salt.
They've got plenty of it.
“We're in good shape,” Glassport's acting road foreman Wayne Rager said. “We've got about 60 more tons in stock and 110 on order.”
Rager said his crews have used about 200 tons so far.
Westmoreland County's salt supplies are in good shape for maintaining state highways, according to Jay Ofsanik, PennDOT safety press officer for Uniontown-based District 12.
“For the year to date, approximately 14,000 tons have been used,” Ofsanik said. “They have close to 18,000 tons on the ground in various stockpiles throughout the county.”
Ofsanik said PennDOT doesn't expect to exceed 100 percent of its salt contract for District 12, which also includes Fayette, Washington and Greene counties.
District 11 is in similarly good shape.
“There are no worries about PennDOT's salt supply as it's been a mild winter until recently,” spokesman James Struzzi said. “To date this winter we have used 15,072 tons of salt in Allegheny County.”
That includes treating county roads during last weekend's storm.
Irwin public works director James Halfhill said the borough started the winter with a 60-ton surplus, and has ordered 900 more. So far, he said, his crews have used about 450 tons, and expect to use between 200 and 300 more before spring.
“In the last couple years, we've been able to cut our salt supply,” Halfhill said. “We buy it in such a way that it's not being wasted. The key is to have it shelf-ready and accessible. You want to use that salt when it's needed, get it out of there and be done with it. I say there isn't another municipality around here that can match our roads. I hear it all the time.”
Irwin usually has three crews out and two on standby during a storm.
Salt supplies in East McKeesport are fine, according to borough administrator-secretary Connie Rosenbayger — “We have a lot from last year,” she said — while Pleasant Hills public works director Dennis Kunkel characterized his supply as “adequate.”
“I just ordered some more (on Monday),” he said.
He estimated the borough has 700-800 tons on hand.
“We are constantly using and adding to it,” Kunkel said. “We cannot store what we need for the entire winter.”
Kunkel said there has not been a lot of bad weather outside of a post-Christmas storm and last weekend's mix of snow and freezing rain.
Port Vue's surplus to start the season has carried the borough so far.
“We haven't used our limit yet because we had about 300 tons left over from last year,” Port Vue manager Joan Winters said. “We just ordered 10 truckloads.”
Wilmerding, Elizabeth Township, Elizabeth, White Oak, North Versailles Township, West Homestead, West Mifflin, Dravosburg and Duquesne acquire their salt from Cargill through a South Hills Area Council of Governments purchasing agreement.
“We're in good shape,” Wilmerding public works chairman and Councilman Jack Mason said. “We just built a new salt bin.”
The bin, which stores 75-100 tons, was built a few month ago. Wilmerding used to store salt near the YMCA, and most of that supply would wash away.
“There was a lot of it gone,” Mason said. “When it rained, we lost salt. We're not losing any salt here anymore. This is all put on a cement slab. It's 28 by 32 feet.”
Wilmerding has two full-time public works employees to maintain the streets.
Elizabeth Township manager Aaron Sukenik said salt usage for the township's 120 miles of roads this year is about average — about 2,000 tons so far — and he plans to order an additional 1,000 tons.
Elizabeth Township used about 3,600 tons during last year's mild winter. It used 4,400 tons in 2010-11, when snowfall was heavier.
Elizabeth borough secretary Pam Sharp said salt usage is noticeably higher this year. Since November, she said the borough has placed five orders for additional salt.
“Last year they had a lot left over,” Sharp said.
West Mifflin manager Brian Kamauf said the borough is only now exhausting its 2011-12 surplus.
“We had so much stockpiled from the mild winter last year,” Kamauf said. “This weekend is the first tonnages we've used from our new order.”
Kamauf said the borough will realize some one-time savings on salt this year because of last year's mild winter. The borough uses about 7,000 tons annually.
Duquesne manager Frank Piccolino said the city has been working with its stockpile from last winter.
“We were running out of space for salt,” said Piccolino, who noted that the city has three storage locations.
White Oak has 200 tons on hand and 200 more coming from Cargill, borough manager Jack Petro Jr. said.
He said the borough started the year with 700 tons of surplus.
Township manager Patricia Logo said North Versailles ordered 400 tons last week.
“Once we get that in, we'll be between a half and three-quarters capacity of what we keep in storage,” she said.
West Homestead public works director Glenn Guckes said the borough has 60-70 tons on hand. He said public works started the season with 100 tons.
“It's OK,” Dravosburg secretary Brenda Honick said of the salt supply there. “We're good because we had all that extra salt we had to take from our SHACOG contract.”
In many communities, the limited use of salt last year meant it could be purchased through the end of the calendar year under the previous South Hills Area Council of Governments purchasing alliance agreement.
Honick said the borough has approximately 100-125 tons on hand. She said by season's end the borough will have to purchase 320 additional tons.
Staff writers Patrick Cloonan, Eric Slagle and Stacy Lee contributed to this story. Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.