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Plenty of salt available for rest of winter season

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Many 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.

Unity Supervisor Mike O'Barto said it was nice to have a supply left over, but the 17-inch accumulation so far this winter has taken a bite out of the township's stockpile.

“We've had no problems with our supply. As a rule of thumb, we start out with 2,000 tons of salt annually, and we've had to buy some to replace what we've used with the recent weather,” he said.

Lou Gorski, director of the South Hills Council of Governments in Allegheny County, 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.

O'Barto welcomed the increase of only $2 per ton.

“The price hasn't been a problem at all. ... I can say that we are more than happy we had a week with this weather to melt the snow,” he said.

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.

John Shepherd, manager of North Huntingdon, said the township was fortunate to have leftovers from last winter.

“We have room in our storage shed for about 8,000 tons and I think we started out with 7,500 tons. We were in really good shape to begin with, and I don't think we've really used an extravagant amount at all — even with the recent storms — and are in really good shape supply-wise,” Shepherd said.

Mary Benko, manager of nearby Irwin, said the borough is well-stocked and has had no trouble getting supplied.

“We're contracted to purchase about 900 tons in a state cost-sharing program, so we really don't have any problems,” she said.

“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 percent 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 currently 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.

Staff writer Paul Peirce contributed. Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or

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