As another storm system moved into Ohio yesterday, local governments learned that they might get some help replenishing their dwindling salt reserves.
But they're going to have to wait a couple of weeks and likely will pay a lot more for it.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is nearing its purchasing limit on four contracts negotiated last summer with suppliers to provide rock salt for the state and for local governments.
Now, the agency is trying to negotiate new deals amid a national salt shortage to ensure that counties, cities and school districts have the salt to keep roads clear.
ODOT Director Jerry Wray said the agency is asking salt companies to bid on a set of new contracts that could make an additional 150,000 tons of road salt available to local governments across the state.
The influx of salt could reach barns in Franklin, Cuyahoga, Medina, Guernsey, Hamilton, Wood and Scioto counties within two weeks, Wray said.
Some central Ohio suburbs have said they are rationing salt as they wait for new shipments.
Gahanna recently received 250 tons of salt but is waiting for an additional 700 tons. Plow drivers didn't spread salt on flat residential streets as the storm moved into central Ohio last night, said Dottie Franey, Gahanna's service director.
The salt shortage and the brutal weather are affecting residents all over Ohio. As much as 10 inches of snow is expected in Lima by today, and 8 inches could fall in the Cleveland area, according to the National Weather Service in Wilmington.
Southern Ohio, which was hit with heavy, wet snow on Monday, could take another hit if sleet and ice develop overnight.
Not only has the state been dealing with a salt shortage to tackle all of that snow, but it's now going to be paying a premium for it.
When ODOT negotiated for the purchase of about 1.1 million tons of salt last summer, it paid an average of $35.83 a ton. Local governments bought nearly 693,000 tons of that initial supply.
Wray said the new contract likely will cost much more because of high demand.
Franklin County has exhausted salt that it purchased through ODOT and a second provider. And when it recently paid a third supplier for an emergency delivery, it paid about $72 a ton, said Tom Nutini, county highway superintendent.
Communities nationwide have had similar troubles keeping salt barns full as they deal with more snow than predicted, according to the Associated Press. And the rush to restock supplies is driving up the price.
ODOT expected to use about 600,000 tons of salt this winter, Wray said, but the state already has spread 720,000 tons. He said that if the bad weather continues through February, the agency could use 1 million tons of salt over the winter. That would be a first.
Wray is warning that ODOT likely won't be able to fill every community's request.
Cargill holds salt contracts in 33 of Ohio's 88 counties, including Franklin and other parts of central Ohio. Spokesman Mark Klein said the company is working to pull additional salt from mines in Cleveland, Louisiana and New York.
He said the company has had shipping troubles this winter because snow has covered train tracks and ice has stalled river barges.
"It's been an unprecedented winter from west to east, north to south, in terms of the number of ice and snow events," Klein said.
By Rick Rouan - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
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