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Winter storms take toll on Connellsville's salt supply

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Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 6:18 p.m.

As the Fay-West area prepares for more rounds of winter precipitation during the next several days, Connellsville Street Department Manager Vernon Ohler is confronting a dilemma — a need for more salt.

The city's bins are not empty. The city has salt. However, Ohler said he has not been able to secure a road salt resupply and he may have to ration what he has left until another supply is delivered.

“People have to be patient,” said Ohler Tuesday as he tried to develop a snow emergency route using maps in the office at Connellsville City Hall. The route would reduce the amount of road salt and anti-skid the city would have to use and would assure no one in the city would have to drive farther than two blocks to reach a treated street.

The reduced route would cut the routes from 35 miles down to about five miles.

Ohler said after making contacts with the salt supplier, he discovered he could do no better than being 26th in line among municipalities asking for deliveries.

Mayor Greg Lincoln said the city was able to order an additional supply of non-skid material that is to be delivered on Thursday.

The snow emergency route will be posted onto the city website.

Ohler said the real root of the problem was the forecast of three storms close together. He was hoping the latest National Weather Service forecast for the Connellsville area would be accurate. That forecast called for the precipitation to change to rain by about 3 a.m. Wednesday with rising temperatures.

Municipalities throughout the state are looking at salt shortages.

Connellsville police remind residents that if anyone has an emergency contact 911 and the police will respond and coordinate needed services to each situation.

According to Valerie Petersen, PennDOT community relations coordinator for District 12 in Uniontown, the district has a fair supply of salt in all four counties (Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland.)

Richard Kirkpatrick, acting PennDOT press secretary in Harrisburg, said Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New Castle have asked PennDOT if they can borrow from their supplies. Kirkpatrick said those requests have been approved. Local governments ship salt back to PennDOT once their own supplies have been replenished.

Kirkpatrick added the municipalities must go through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. PEMA then coordinates with PennDOT and the requests are honored, if the supplies are available from the county where the municipality is located.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has supplied about 6,000 tons of road salt to municipalities that have run short this winter, as a series of storms have put the material in high demand.

The department said Monday its salt stock stood at about 382,000 tons, with some 145,000 tons still to be delivered.

In an average winter, PennDOT goes through about 800,000 tons, but this year the department has been going through road salt more quickly than usual. By the end of January it had used 686,000 tons, compared with an average of 466,000 tons by the same time in previous years.

PennDOT starts each winter with more than 500,000 tons on hand.

It could not be determined by press time if supplies would be available in Fayette County.

Jeff Landy, borough manager for Mt. Pleasant, said his municipality is not having problems.

“We did a good job in planning and managing our supplies,” said Landy. “We've been watching out.”

As a sign of road salt's importance this winter, Gov. Tom Corbett on Monday directed PennDOT to temporarily waive some of the rules for commercial drivers who are delivering salt supplies. Those drivers can now work longer shifts without a mandatory rest period.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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