County scrambling to find road salt

"No one want to sell it" to Huron County, engineer says.
Scott Seitz2
Sep 1, 2014

One might be surprised during these last days of August that road salt is on the minds of Huron County officials.

But, that's the case after the county received no bids to supply road salt this winter.

"No one wants to sell it to us," Huron County Engineer Joe Kovach said.

The harsh winter of 2013-2014 has exhausted salt supplies.

The county has 1,500 tons of salt currently in storage. It uses about 3,000 to 4,000 tons per winter, Kovach said.

"There's a salt shortage in the state of Ohio," he added. "I'm on the phone today trying to find salt. The suppliers have used up their stockpiles and raised their prices."

The county paid between $33 and $37 per ton last winter depending on whether it was delivered.

"Mahoning County just paid $146 per ton," Kovach said, adding Portage County is on the hook for more than $100 per ton.

Kovach said Erie County received a price of $91 per ton, but has rejected it.

"Erie County is in the same bind we are in," he said.

"Suppliers are saying they can't honor contracts, they don't have the capacity," Kovach said. "It's happening everywhere, especially down south. We're not alone in this."

Kovach said Huron County usually obtains its salt through salt mines in Lake Erie or Canada.

"I've never seen it this bad," he said.

Kovach said he's approached the Ohio Department of Transportation District 3 to attempt to purchase salt.

Norwalk bought salt at $58.46 per ton through ODOT. Norwalk still paid $22 more per ton than it did a year ago.

Kovach said he's talked to officials in Fort Wayne, Ind. about buying salt at $80 to $90 per ton.

"I don't know if I can even buy it from them," he said.

Kovach said motorists could be in for an adventure this winter if salt remains scarce.

"They surely could be," he said. "This will become a safety issue and political issue. The county commissioners know about this. The salt is bid through them."

The engineer said he plans on contacting state representatives and senators to help with the problem.

Kovach said he knew the price could double or triple.

"Some places are using more grit, beet juice or brine," he said. "We don't have the hardware to use brine.

"If we have to use 75-percent grit, we will," Kovach said.

Grit is obtained through local stone quarries.

"Grit is between $8 and $10 per ton," Kovach said. "I can afford that. I can't afford to pay $100 per ton for salt. Grit helps with traction, but it doesn't melt the ice. Drivers are going to have to drive slow.

"We've got a couple of months to regroup and come up with some solutions," he added.

Comments

exoticnoise420

Do like Michigan and use mostly sand on no major roads.

Dusty

After a quick search I found China sells it for 60-90 delivered by the ship load.

MrSalty's picture
MrSalty

Dusty that's great but delivered to where? New Orleans? Certainly not to Norwalk. And the quality of the salt will break windshields and leave chalk. You want to retire, broker a few ships of Egyptian salt which you can buy all day long for $10/ton in the Egyptian Desert then charter a ship, put up $5MM and give half of that up front to Egyptians you don't know to deliver salt in the desert with no roads to the Port of Alexandria and just tack on another $10/ton profit for yourself and you will have a nice fat $500k profit for yourself after you sell it all - assuming you ever get it to start with. Ask Michigan Salt Co. about how well that worked for them. They found out the hard way that it's a lot more complicated than using your known local sources when play this game. No, there's no salt in China that can reach Norwalk for $100 ton. There is some European salt (different spec) that can get to port of Cleveland for $150 if you want to put up your cash now and make the arrangements.

me arse

Why not scale back the new license bureau project a bit and use the money to buy salt? If they can so easily tack on an extra $25,000 for their first cost over run then it shouldn't be an issue. What's more important, a big building or winter road safety?

ladydye_5

Why is the AG not investigating this for price gouging? Kinda like the water scandal in Toledo? If the price went up because of a weather phenomenon and a "shortage" now, why is that not considered price gouging? Someone should look into that?! Right?

swiss family

AMEN>>>AMEN>>>AMEN>>>!!!!!!!

exoticnoise420

It's no different than why gas prices went up 2 dollars a gallon in the last 10 years. We demanded gas. And now me demand salt for the roads we drive out gas powered vehicles on.

Dusty

What's the penilty for not honoring the contract? If we have a contract price that's what we should be paying. Its there job to make sure they have enough salt to meet the contract, even if they make no money on it.

Dr. Information

Grit only works when its not snowing. Throw grit down on 6 inches of fresh snow and you get absolutely nothing accomplished. You have to have salt to MELT.

MrSalty's picture
MrSalty

You don't understand how this works. Salt is a commodity and therefore is available from many sources at prevailing prices. Because your community is virtually right on top of ONE salt mine for one producer, you have enjoyed pricing that is reflective of that. It's like being on top of a natural gas deposit and there are little or no transportation costs so your cost is low.

Last year, if you ask the DPW to disclose the figures, you will find that you used an exponentially higher amount than the previous two winters; maybe even more than the previous two combined. The supplier relies on averages because DPW salt contracts do not require the municipality to buy any minimum, but require supply of an unlimited maximum. If you had a water well and suddenly the 500 gallons per day you use jumped to 3000 gallons/day, would you be mad when your well went dry in a week or would you approach it in a spirit of cooperation to work together to fix the problem? A reasonable person would work in a spirit of cooperation understanding that conditions well beyond anyone's control or expectation (force majeure) have created a temporary shortfall and if everyone will accept a little each, then we can all work with something and get through it. But the reality is that this is an unforgiving world and the penalties for the salt suppliers for failing to deliver tons which exceed anyone's expectation are financially disproportionate and severe; 1% of the contract per day late. Back to the well analogy; expect 3000 gallons of water per day and get 200 and then charge the well a penalty of 1% per day until ALL of the demand is delivered. Multiply this times every town in the US east of the rockies to the Gulf of Mexico and now you have severe financial negative impact to the suppliers so hard, that they will understandably not come back for more on the next contract offer. No bid. If towns worked like private industry and in a spirit of cooperation that did not penalize salt companies for failing to achieve the impossible, you'd have bidder's lining up and competitive offers. But when the penalty exceeds any amount of money a company can make on supply to the community, they say "Ok, we had our biggest year and ended up getting hurt and we're not going to do that again so we'll sell our available tons to whoever wants to buy what we have available today, however, if that includes a contract to supply an infinite amount tomorrow and beyond, then no thanks".

The contracts were honored and it was not a question of honoring contracts; it's a question of asking your supplier to achieve the impossible and then sticking it to them for not achieving it. Live by the sword, die by the same sword. In the warmed over winters of recent years, these contracts have gotten away with increasingly onerous clauses but now the day of choice for the suppliers is here and if your offer is wrought with potential pitfalls, you can do the math and guess the outcome.

Want to fix this? Work in a spirit of cooperation and buy whatever you can get on the spot market now. Many are doing that and supplies are already sold out. Give it a few more weeks and you won't even have a spot market to buy from. Being next to a salt mine is only good if that mine continues to supply you. Start trucking it from Baltimore and pay $175/ton for freight on top of $95 or more per ton for salt and then complain about it. Your options are shrinking - not increasing so don't be too bullheaded about this; many will be left with nothing by the time the first flakes arrive. Plenty of salt in the ground but getting it to the surface in exponentially higher demand is impossible. It will take years to recover from this and people just don't get it.

ladydye_5

Oh I get it. I understand how prices work and why. What I was trying to make a point of is the supply and demand thing. The gas company did the same thing last year during the Arctic blast when everyone needed to heat their homes as did the fuel oil companies. Even those that had contracts for a set price. They only delivered half and it cost twice as much. Here recently when Toledo was in the middle of their "water crisis" people created a self imposed water shortage. When others went, bought water, hauled it to Toledo and resold it (of course for a profit, it is a free market).....people threw a fit and called for the Attorney General to investigate for price gouging. I was making the point of this is no different. Fuel oil/natural gas....water....salt. Supply and demand. Why do officials investigate one and not another? Why do special treatments work on only a select few? In today's climate, financial situation, and thought process, it will only get worse.

hit the road jack

MrSalty: You pay $175.00 a ton from Baltimore? I know plenty of people who want in on that action! 500 miles @25 tons x 175.00 that's 4300.00 freight for 500 miles,where do they call to get on list to haul this stuff?

MrSalty's picture
MrSalty

Jack: trailer dumps are very different from vans and flatbed trucks as far as rates; you are paying freight in two directions because there's no backhaul, so it's not a 500 mile move, it's a 1000 mile move and you have new DOT/FMCSA regs that will not allow you get this done in under 24 hours. Remember that now they charge the waiting time sitting in 200 truck deep loading line at the port and in/out at the scale as driving hours under the new July 2013 FMCSA regs so you'll burn AT LEAST 24 driving hours (of your 11 hour daily limit and 70 hour weekly limit) or 2.5 days doing just one lap to Baltimore in your trailer dump. Three loads, or 100 tons and you're done for the next 34 consecutive hours as I'm sure you already know. Add traffic headaches and driving when its snowing (yes, the salt has to move when it's snowing) and that 25+ hour lap to Baltimore becomes a 40 hour adventure. On this basis, you'll burn your 70 hour weekly limit before you deliver the 2nd load.

Now if you truly want to sign up, shoot me an email and we'll gladly put you on the list unless that's all smoke to make it sound like you know what you're talking about, but really don't.

While we're on this subject, the current average age for an over-the-road truck driver is 55. That's the average. Go to 100 high schools in Ohio and interview the graduating class - all of them - about their plans after graduation. Now tell us; of the 30k kids you talk to how many say they want to be over-the-road truck drivers when they graduate? We both know that answer and this is a serious problem. The backfill for our aging/retiring driver pool is slowly showing up; Latinos, Indians, and, Russians. They don't speak English well - if at all - and if the GPS they are using doesn't deliver them to their load point and destination, good luck talking them in off their cellphone. I live in this world. I will debate this topic until cows become pilots for the flying pigs. It is incredibly difficult to get trucks to move anything in and across America. One company controls more than half of all the grocery in the US now. You know who it is - everybody knows. They have their own fleet and don't haul privately. They have caused major carriers (YRC/Schnieder/etc) to have major portions of their fleets parked because there are no drivers, and oh by they way, those majors don't have trailer dumps. The available American trucking fleet has contracted so badly that those major carriers are offering $25k+ signing bonuses for qualified over-the-road drivers who stay on a year. Get a hazmat endorsement on that CDL and that signing bonus will combine to a guaranteed minimum $100k/yr job. You get to see your kids 2-3 days/month, but hey who cares you're making giant money...right? No, the real world is $175/ton to move from Baltimore to Norwalk. The imaginary world is an internet broker who plays a poker game on the trucking posting boards where the losing hand wins and you get what you pay for.

If salt continues to go the way its going, AND IT SNOWS, we will be very challenged to get truckers to do hundreds of laps to Baltimore for $175/ton. They available pool is not there in the real world and those that are will work their 70 hours locally and see their kids every night or stay home when it snows. The trailer dump drivers who will sleep in their truck and manage the winter driving, breakdowns, and traffic idiots are fewer and farther between. Here's your $175/ton; where are you? This all of course assumes that it snows and the commodity market will drive this demand. If it doesn't snow, then this entire diatribe is good only for filling a balloon.

hit the road jack

Yea, I know where your coming from with the driver pool,hell, most of these kids that get a CDL now want to be home by 5:30 every day and no weekends,I used to run out west every week and just got fed up with no raise and health ins. rates going up and gave it up.
I don't think the driver pool has dried up,I think they just do not want to work for nothing,no one wants to pay anything and they want the wheels turning 24/7 and you get burned out.
I would almost bet with the mob in Baltimore you could find scrap steel going out and then salt back but hey it probably wouldn't be every day.
Who pays the delay time now? hell,that's been on the books for 50 years but good luck collecting it!
I personally sold my truck a while back but I am thinking about getting another one,rates were stagnet for so long and now,like you say you can not even find drivers worth a crap,its pathetic,I do know some people with their own trucks yet and I'm sure they would like to get in on that if the rates stay that high.

Really are you ...

The story of salt is coming full circle.

Wait for the story of fossil fuels to come full circle.

MrSalty's picture
MrSalty

lady_dye5: Commodities are commodities and Webster's defines the term. "com·mod·i·ty
noun \kə-ˈmä-də-tē\

: something that is bought and sold"

Whether fuel, water, salt, gas, flour, bread, milk, or anything else that is a commodity (available from multiple sources) the price is based on supply and demand.

I respectfully doubt that the gas company could breach a written contract. If you had a written and properly executed contract that called for a set price, unless the gas company declares "force majeure" and legally voids contracts, they are in breach. The law is very clear on this and declaration of force majeure is not easy for any contract holder. If they did not declare force majeure then they are legally bound by the contract. This all assumes that they do not have a clause in the set price contract that allows for suspension or voiding it. If a contract holder breaches the contract, that is ground for action and then you would need to show damages. If your damages were paying $300/month more for 3.3 months, then your damages are $1k and that amount is your claim for damages from breach of contract. My guess is that there is a clause the flat rate payers don't read closely that gives the gas company an out. If not, sue them. The salt contracts are very clear on what the damages are and they applied them. That is in fact the very reason you are not getting bids and potentially will not. If your only contract tool is a hammer; everything looks like a nail. Take away the hammer clause and you'll find more willing supply vendors as well as more competitive bidding.

Spot market prices are ranging from a low of $30/ton to a high of $240/ton depending upon where they are located. Many communities will have no salt this winter so if it is a repeat of last year, buy tire chains now before they are sold out. That of course assumes they will not fine and/or arrest you for using tire chains on OH public roads.
See R.C. § 5589.01 and http://www.legislature.state.oh.... It appears that while studded tires are out, chains are not specifically cited. In any case, this may be a not so far fetched option and many who have them may have the last laugh. The over-use of salt in the US is reprehensible; driven by tort law and people's desire to blame others for their own stupidity. Is it really that important to drive in inclement weather? Do you really need that loaf of bread and gallon of milk now?

Imagine if we had a policy that we would salt only at the end of a winter event and that during, travel would be restricted to emergency and commercial traffic only. Today's motoring public wants to hop in the SUV and drive like they are in a NASCAR race in snow. Inexperienced operators in way over their heads because they think the 4WD SUV will stop equally as well as it goes; WRONG! They stop like a toboggan or a smart car and no differently. Think about the contact surface of four tires locked up on an SUV: four tires, with four patches about the size of a piece of paper are going going to stop a 6k lb SUV going 40 mph in what distance? Look it up. This is the main reason that we are salting the daylights out of our streets, dissolving our cars, and infrastructure; all in the name of public safety for a motoring public that drive like idiot in snow.

Sorry for rant, but I'm in the salt business and I'm appalled at the exponential growth of salt use. Want to know how much? Learn a lot more about what is really being done here: http://www.saltinstitute.org/

I would love to see the amount of salt double or triple for my industry, but as an American, I am not happy with how we are getting to these insane numbers because of an impatient motoring public who refuse to work in a spirit of cooperation. Ever see idiots like they on a slalom ski course running through a conga line of plows who are trying to just do their job? Wonder what the drivers of the plow trucks think about that? Go back to my statement about stopping distances and contact area on glazed roads and then consider the plow truck can be 70,000 lbs of inertia now bearing down on a vehicle a fraction its weight and guess what; the plow truck's on 4 pieces or maybe 8 pieces of paper worth of contact too. Not funny. People need to lighten up and be more understanding of these things.

mikeylikesit's picture
mikeylikesit

times are tough when you can get heroin anywhere but you can't find salt. the end is near..

Really are you ...

Good point. We have all of these want to be chemists around here trying to make these drugs. See of they can make something to use on snow.

Besides their nose.