North Hills communities battle to keep up with winter's wrath
Whether supplies of road salt will outlast winter is a big unknown for area township managers.
Several local officials reported recent delays in salt shipments and deliveries as unpredictable as the weather.
“We have 2,200 tons (of salt) on order that we have not received yet,” said Chris Lochner, manager of Hampton Township, last week.
“We're currently OK,” Lochner said. “However, if we get a prolonged period of snow ... we're going to have a problem.”
Dean Bastianini, manager of Richland Township, also anticipates a possible salt shortage if storms persist.
“We're fine for now,” Bastianini said. “Obviously there will be some challenges going forward if the kind of weather we got in January continues, which is likely.”
In Shaler Township, road crews, as of last week, already had used 9,000 tons of salt, Manager Tim Rogers said. Shaler typically orders 8,000 tons of salt per winter.
“This is absolutely the worst winter we've seen,” Rogers said.
He and Pine Township assistant manager Scott Anderson said officials are having a difficult time getting deliveries.
“There's so much demand all at once. That's the issue,” Anderson said. “There are only so many trucks that can move around the stuff.”
McClymonds Supply and Transit Co. of Butler County hauls salt ordered by Shaler, Pine, Richland and Hampton townships through a contract negotiated by the North Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG) with the Chicago-based Morton Salt Co. Shaler, Pine, Richland and Hampton also buy salt from the American Rock Salt Co. in Mt. Morris, N.Y., through a state-sponsored purchasing program.
The McClymonds trucking firm used to deliver the Morton salt from supplies in Crescent Township in Allegheny County, and Monaca in Beaver County, NHCOG Executive Director Wayne Roller said.
The trucks now pick up the salt in Ashtabula, Ohio, about 30 miles from the salt mines, Roller said.
“The closest mine where they're mining it is in Fairport, Ohio,” Roller said.
But local officials aren't blaming McClymonds for the recent salt shortages.
“Obviously there are many customers that they have to fill orders for, and they're doing the best they can,” said Lochner. “Frankly, they've been doing a good job of making sure that everybody gets some in the North Hills.”
Bastianini also praised Richland's public works crew — and those in neighboring municipalities — for their role in keeping drivers safe.
“They have lost a lot of sleep, and given up time with their families, even on Christmas, to keep township roads open and safe for travel,” Bastianini said. “Their hard work, over an extended period of harsh weather, demonstrates how important public employees are to the community.”
To offset spotty salt deliveries, Hampton, Shaler and Pine road crews all have scaled back their applications of road salt.
“We are conserving,” said Rogers of Shaler. “We plan to salt less, and do more plowing.”
A cautionary message now welcomes visitors to Shaler's online site: “The Township of Shaler is continuing to experience supply issues relative to the receipt of rock salt to treat the roads.
“The township cautions residents to be particularly careful when traveling township streets,” advises the online notice. “The township will attempt to salt hills, intersections and curves, and will be reducing the salting of flat areas in the township.”
Hampton road crews also have dialed down their trucks' salt outlay.
“We're not going out and doing blanket salt runs like we have been doing,” Lochner said.
“We're doing plowing first, then we're salting. Of course we're still paying special attention to our intersections and our hills.”
In Pine Township, a brine-making machine purchased in 2011 seems to be earning its keep.
The machine makes a solution that Pine trucks spray on road surfaces, along with salt crystals. The brine jump starts the crystals' snow-melting power, and prevents the crystals from rolling off the road.
“It seems to be helping us a lot,” said Tony Barbarino, public works director for Pine.
After many years of managing north suburban Pittsburgh townships, Lochner and Bastianini share a sense of déjà vu about their salt worries.
“This is not the first time we've gone through this,” Lochner said.
“Most of my colleagues, especially in the North Hills, have all been through this before. It's a matter of supply versus demand, and the demand comes all at one time.”
Bastianini also refuses to panic.
“No two years are ever the same in Pittsburgh,” Bastianini said. “We have a lot of weeks of potential winter ahead of us. … As long as salt supplies continue to come in — even at a trickle — we should be OK.”
Deborah Deasy is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer with Trib Total Media and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.