| News

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Mild weather helps swell Pittsburgh-area salt surpluses

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Many Pittsburgh-area municipalities are on a reduced-salt diet this year.

Last year's mild winter left them with stockpiles of the rock salt they buy by the ton to spread on slippery roads, so they're purchasing less this year, which helps because the price is rising.

Lou Gorski, director of the The South Hills Council of Governments, said salt prices climbed slightly from $55.83 per ton in 2012 to $57.04 per ton this year because of contract extensions and rising fuel prices.

SHACOG's purchasing alliance bid for rock salt for more than 100 Allegheny County municipalities and 12 communities in Butler County.

Last year's mild winter — part of the warmest year in U.S. history, the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., reported last week — left most municipalities with salt surpluses.

So officials ordered less rock salt for this year at the higher price to keep roads clear.

“We have about 9,000 tons (of salt) on hand, all bought at last year's prices,” said Joe Bonkowski, public works supervisor for Robinson. “We had to make up some temporary bins... just to hold it.”

Regardless of whether it all gets used, public works departments must accept delivery of 60 to 80 percent of their initial orders, depending on how their contracts are written.

“We cut our order for this year from 8,000 tons to 4,000, and we'll still have to buy 3,000 tons no matter what,” Bonkowski said.

Some places, including Munhall, West Mifflin, Glassport and Ben Avon, ran out of storage space for 2012's salt order and had to pay the supplier an extra $5 per ton to store it for them.

“Many municipalities around the area found themselves contemplating the requirement to buy and no place to store,” Gorski said.

Mt. Lebanon built a surplus nearly large enough to cover a winter's worth of road treatment, said Public Works Director Tom Kelley.

Mt. Lebanon's salt dome and storage yard hold about 5,100 tons of salt after the municipality used 1,700 tons to treat the post-Christmas snowstorm, Kelley said.

He recently ordered about 1,000 tons. In a typical winter, the municipality uses about 6,500 tons of salt, he said.

The late-December storm reduced Cranberry's stockpile by about 1,000 tons, which should lower the cost of storing its excess, said Public Works Director Jason Dailey. That's because the township must pay a contractor to cover its extra salt to protect it from the elements, he said.

Cranberry's order will shrink slightly from 4,500 tons of salt to 3,800, though new machinery to convert the dry salt to liquid brine may help workers stretch the supply further, he said.

The North Hills Council of Governments coordinates 18 other communities' salt purchases and is buying their salt for $60.42 per ton — the same price as last year, said Executive Director Wayne Roller. His members cut back on their orders for 2013 by 10 percent to 15 percent, he said.

In Beaver County, Monaca did not cut its order of about 750 to 800 tons of salt per year, but Manager Mario Leone anticipates taking delivery of less than the full amount.

“With the rest of the winter ahead of us, we're projecting to go through the same amount that we usually do. ... We're probably going to be closer to the 60 percent than the 100 percent,” Leone said.

Bob Callen, executive director of the Beaver County Council of Governments, said most of the 21 communities he covers met their expectations for salt consumption and would not cut back much.

Pittsburgh Director of Public Works Rob Kaczorowski said the city orders salt as it goes, keeping a stockpile of about 24,000 tons by replacing whatever it uses not long after each storm.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can bereached at 412-380-5625or

Add Matthew Santoni to your Google+ circles.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.




Show commenting policy

Most-Read Allegheny

  1. Pittsburgh airport improvements noted as CEO tries to expand activity
  2. Developers share their vision for Garden Theater block on North Side
  3. National Night Out ‘a start’ for violence-prone Homewood
  4. Volunteer tutors boost adult literacy in Allegheny County
  5. Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s banding program a labor of love for avian expert
  6. Downtown Macy’s building to lose OASIS to closer parent organization
  7. Allegheny County Council candidates chosen for District 11 ballot
  8. Newsmaker: Harry J. Gruener
  9. Roman Catholic Church in midst of culture clash over gays
  10. 2 killed in single-vehicle crash in Pittsburgh
  11. Author of Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates its effects in Carnegie