Harsh winter cutting into salt supplies, raising prices
By Mike Nolan email@example.com January 29, 2014 10:12PM
Salt is spread on a Tinley Park street in this file photo. The village isn't experiencing a shortage of salt that is forcing other Southland communities to scramble to find alternate supplies. | File photo
Updated: March 3, 2014 4:13PM
The next time it snows in Homewood, fewer village streets are going to get a dose of ice-melting salt.
The village and other Southland communities are running dangerously low on road salt and are scrambling to find other sources. If there’s any salt to be had, the price far exceeds what the going rate was before the season.
“We’re at a real critical level here,” said John Schaefer, Homewood’s public works director.
He’s informed village leaders that while side streets will be plowed, they won’t be salted so Homewood can conserve its supply to concentrate on major thoroughfares.
Two years of mild winters had suburbs making an educated guess on how much road salt they would need this season. Most towns buy salt through supply agreements negotiated by the state to take advantage of volume discounts, but those orders for this winter had to be placed by April, Schaefer said.
“It’s a game you play with Mother Nature,” he said. “You make your best educated prediction (on how much will be needed) and hope you hit your mark.”
Mokena has used about 3,000 tons of salt and has about 500 tons left, according to public works director Louis Tiberi. He’s ordered another 500 tons, but ice on Illinois rivers has slowed the progress of barges carrying salt and other commodities to the Chicago area.
Homer Township has about 1,000 tons of salt still available and is “not in a conservation mode,” Highway Commissioner Mike De Vivo said. He said the township will have enough salt if snowfall for the rest of the winter is average or slightly above average.
“If it snows every day, then everybody’s not going to have enough salt,” De Vivo said.
Schaefer also is president of the Suburban Public Works Directors Association, whose members include several south and southwest suburbs, and he said a “good majority” of them are in the same predicament.
He said a couple of towns, which he declined to identify, have exhausted their salt supply, and his group is meeting Thursday to discuss supply options, although “things are not looking very positive on that end.”
Schaefer said he has talked with suppliers out of state and has been quoted prices as high as $176 per ton, far above the $49 a ton his village paid.
“Salt is like gold,” he said.
He said for some towns, it’s not simply a matter of buying a whole bunch of road salt and holding on to it. State purchase contracts require that communities take 80 percent of what they order right off the bat or pay for it regardless, and some towns don’t have the ability to keep large amounts of salt properly stored.
Previously, towns that were running low could turn to the Illinois Department of Transportation, taking salt with the promise of later refilling IDOT’s supply with a like amount. However, “due to the unprecedented winter weather conditions the state has experienced so far this season,” IDOT isn’t fulfilling those requests, IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said.
Some suburbs aren’t in such dire straits, however.
Orland Park has “enough salt in our reserves, and we continue to get shipments,” said Joe La Margo, the village’s public information officer.
Tinley Park has used about 70 percent of the 5,500 tons it ordered and could get delivery of another 1,100 tons if needed, public works director Dale Schepers said. The village is trying to “conserve a little bit here and there,” such as not dropping as much salt in the middle of a block to ensure that intersections are well salted, he said.
Contributing: Frank Vaisvilas