Leftover salt, less snow help Armstrong County fare better than neighbors

A PennDOT worker loads a mixture of salt and anti-skid material at a facility on Route 422 In Armstrong County, Thursday, Feb.13, 2014.
A PennDOT worker loads a mixture of salt and anti-skid material at a facility on Route 422 In Armstrong County, Thursday, Feb.13, 2014.
Photo by Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
| Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, 1:12 p.m.

Advance planning, large supplies and conservative usage are reasons Armstrong County officials are giving for not suffering from the same salt shortages as neighboring counties during this year's harsh winter.

While neighboring counties are short on salt, communities around Armstrong County are still using leftovers from last year's light winter, making the shortage easier to handle, said James Mechling, Kittanning supervisor of Public Works.

“We had about 100 tons left over from last year,” Mechling said. “So while everybody was buying new supplies this year, I was still using last year's salt.”

Armstrong County — with a lower elevation than nearby counties — had less snowfall last year and required less salt for its roads.

“The higher the elevation, the colder the temperatures, which brings more precipitation,” Meteorologist Brad Rehak from the National Weather Service in Moon said. “Lower elevations, like Armstrong County, tend to see less snowfall.”

Mechling said the borough always attempts to order more salt than it needs, so it can be prepared for any amount of snowfall.

“This week, I ordered three truckloads to stay ahead of the game, but with people having such a hard time getting salt elsewhere, we might end up one load behind,” Mechling said Friday. “But so far, I haven't had any complaints about getting salt.”

Cory Angell, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said his organization works with municipalities who run out of road salt.

They help municipalities borrow salt from PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Armstrong County communities have not had to borrow any PennDOT salt, said Andrew Firment of the agency's Kittanning office.

That isn't the case in other places in Western Pennsylvania. Hempfield last week declared an emergency disaster because of a critical shortage of road salt. The Westmoreland County township had to borrow 100 tons of salt from PennDOT to get by. Murrysville recently got so far behind in having salt delivered that it was forced to dilute what it had with anti-skid materials.

“We're always being pretty conservative with our salt, but this year has been a hard winter,” Ford City Secretary Lisa Bitner said. “We've needed more salt because of a longer winter — we're on our fourth or fifth load, and so far, this winter we've gotten more salt than all of last year combined.”

Ford City buys its salt from a private supplier by the truckload — a short bed, tri-axle truck, because a larger vehicle would not fit into the borough's garage.

Salt piles across the region are dwindling more rapidly than anticipated because of the repeated snowfalls this winter, and fresh supplies that make their way to the region by river and rail are held up by ice from stretches of subzero temperatures.

Deliveries have stalled because of frozen rivers, which has limited salt shipments from Canada. Some salt vendors haven't been able to mine, ship and deliver quickly enough to meet the demand.

“We have enough salt stockpiled to deal with several severe storms, so we always have enough on hand to cover the roads,” Firment said. “With the demand, we've had some trouble getting a few deliveries on time, but all of our orders have been filled completely.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com. Trib Total Media staff writers Bob Stiles and Richard Gazarik contributed to this report.

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