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Mild weather helps swell Pittsburgh-area salt surpluses

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 msantoni@tribweb.com.

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