Salt scarcity prompts talk of alternatives for next winter

| Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, 2:33 p.m.

Murrysville public works needs a new back-up plan.

Road salt levels have dwindled to next to nothing in Murrysville, with officials unable to get much more material delivered, public works director Bob Bell.

“This is the worst I've ever seen it,” Bell said. “We'd get a little low, but we've never been unable to get material.”

On Monday, the municipality was down to its final 150 tons of a mixture of salt and “anti-skid” material – a mixture that was heavily relying on “anti-skid,” Bell said.

That didn't bode well for Monday night, when Murrysville officials recommended that residents stay off the roads as much as possible until Tuesday afternoon.

A series of storms dropped 3.3 inches of snow and sleet on the region Monday night and Tuesday morning, causing Franklin Regional to cancel classes for the fifth time this year.

“It was a pretty dynamic little system,” said Mike Kennedy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon. “It was a mixed bag of precipitation that had a good impact, even when it wasn't snow.”

Murrysville's problem isn't unique. Across the region, municipalities have been low on salt, causing travel restrictions in Hempfield and Unity. In Penn Township, officials said they were down to their last bit on Monday.

Like Bell, employees of neighboring road crews have been holding their breath, hoping that backlogged salt orders would be filled.

Bell said he's behind by nearly 1,000 tons of salt — each shipment he orders either doesn't come in or is filled at a drastically lower level than what he requested.

He's been meeting with Murrysville Chief Administrator Jim Morrison to develop a new plan for next year, possibly joining another consortium to have back-up salt supplies.

One saving grace for the municipality has been that it started the year with a full salt shed.

During each of the past two winters, local municipalities have been overstocked on salt because of fewer storms.

When it comes to snow, it's either feast or famine, Bell said — and this year, it's been a feast, which has created a salt famine.

The National Weather Service isn't forecasting additional snow until this weekend, which gives Bell and road crews across the region a chance to replenish some of their salt supplies — if companies like American Rock Salt are able to deliver. But given the way things have been going, Bell warns residents that Murrysville roads aren't going to be what they're used to.

We're in very serious conservation mode,” Bell said. “Residents are going to see white roads out there.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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