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Tons of salt ready

| Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Even though the Fay-West area has experienced a blast of winter weather during the past several days, National Weather Service officials say this winter season has been mild.

And that's good news for local municipalities.

Local and state officials say because of the mild weather their road salt and ash supplies are plentiful.

On an average, Connellsville uses about 400 tons of road salt a year, said Vernon Ohler, street department foreman, but because of this week's snowfall, the city already has used close to that amount but remains prepared.

Last year, in preparation for the winter season, the city requested 750 tons of salt through Three Rivers Marina. Under terms of that agreement, the city is guaranteed up to 750 tons of salt, but only pays for what it uses, Ohler said.

The city mixes anti-skid material into the salt, not only to help with traction, but also to help the salt last longer.

This year the city will request salt through a state program, which offers a lower price.

"Right now we're paying upwards of $40 a ton," said Ohler. "That's high, but they've factored in the cost of fuel for the trucks that deliver it. The price will definitely go down when we order it through the state."

There are some restrictions, however, when utilizing the state program.

The city will have to purchase at least 60 percent of what it requests, but can't obtain more than 140 percent of the requested amount.

Ohler said the purchasing request through the state should be completed by March 31 for 2006. Council members will address the issue at the March 9 council meeting.

Ohler also said street department employees are getting close to the city's budgeted number of overtime hours, but promised the work will get done if the snow continues.

"We can take comp time and they can also pay overtime out of the liquid fuels account, so there's ways to get around it," he said.

Angelo Pallone, Mt. Pleasant borough manager, said there's plenty of salt there.

In fact, the borough recently ordered 500 tons because it was operating on a 50-ton supply at the beginning of the year.

Now that the borough sheds are full, Pallone hopes the borough will be able to begin the next snow season with a good supply.

"We've been fortunate this year by not having a lot of bad weather," said Pallone.

The borough gets its salt supply through the state and through the Central Westmoreland Council of Governments program. Pallone said the borough is spreading only salt.

Pallone is investigating what materials can be added to the salt to extend the borough's salt supply. She said the borough tries to avoid using anti-skid material because residents complain of chips from the material hitting their cars.

The borough's salt supply is paid for from the liquid fuels budget.

"You try to budget, but you might have to pay out of the general fund (in emergency situations)," said Pallone. "It all depends on the weather."

With the help of popcorn ashes and anti-skid material, Bullskin Township has been able to get away with using only about 240 tons of salt this season.

"We're good for another 160 tons," said Supervisor John Coughenour.

The township has found that the mixture of ash, salt and anti-skid material works well on its many rural and mountain roads, said Coughenour.

Township employees have logged about 50 to 60 hours of overtime per person so far this year. Last winter, employees averaged about 175 overtime hours per person.

"We look forward to these mild winters," said Coughenour. "It really helps with the budget as far as overtime and purchasing salt."

But PennDOT's District 12, based in Uniontown, hasn't been that lucky. Responsible for 700 miles of roadway and 1,666 "snow lane" miles (this comes into play when there are four-lane highways), District 12 has used about 9,500 tons of salt this season, said Michael Kisko, roadway programs manager.

But still, that's down from the yearly average of about 13,000 tons.

"We have nine stockpiles and 41 trucks that we're using in Fayette County," said Kisko, who added it still has about 5,000 tons of salt in inventory.

"We're seasonal; we gear up for our snow removal operation," said Kisko. "Snow is the nature of the beast. The milder the (winter) weather, the more money we can spend on summer maintenance programs."

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