Ohio Cities and Towns Face Soaring Road Salt Prices

A truck salts the roads in Solon last winter. (Brian Bull / ideastream)
A truck salts the roads in Solon last winter. (Brian Bull / ideastream)
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During last year’s long and brutal winter, Jefferson County in far eastern Ohio used 4,000 tons of road salt. With all that snow and ice not too far away in memory, and with forecasts of a bad or even worse winter ahead, the county’s Dave Hayes was interested to see what the prices would be for a ton of salt this year, compared to last year’s $36.45 per ton.

“We had to go with Central Salt for a price of $105.38, which is a 289 percent increase," Hayes said.

Jefferson County participates in the state purchasing contract for salt, to try to get a better bid deal. But not this time, Hayes said.

“We’re stuck. The reason we participate with the state is because we can secure lower prices normally," he said. "And if we went out on our own we might not even get a bid. And if we did, it might be a lot more than $105.38. I know there’s other counties across the state that were even much higher than that.”

Steve Faulkner is with the Ohio Department of Transportation, which buys and stockpiles salt for its own trucks for the winter. And ODOT’s running into the same high prices.

“On that contract, we’re looking at some prices that, for the first time that we can remember in a long time, prices have hit more than $100 per ton in some counties, and that is an issue,” Faulkner said.

Salt companies are saying last year’s seemingly endless winter drained their inventories, so the high costs are simply reflect how high the demand is compared to the limited supply. Faulkner says the state can absorb the huge cost increase a lot easier than some communities, which can have varied prices because of variable needs. So the agency is trying to work as a go-between to get a cheaper price.

“When you get a bid back that’s more than $100, what we are doing at ODOT is we’re saying to local communities, is this something that you can afford? If it is, let’s go ahead and lock it in. If not, perhaps we go to the salt companies and say, can we get a lower bid on this salt?” Faulkner said.

But one lawmaker says he’s suspicious. State Rep. Jack Cera is a Democrat of Bellaire on the West Virginia border near Wheeling. He says he’s heard of salt price increases as high as 300 percent.

“In talking with local people who’ve talked to some of these salt companies, they’ve asked that question: Is it supply and demand?" Cera said. "And they weren’t satisfied with the answer. So I just think it’s something – 300 percent increase seems pretty high no matter what the issue is.”

Cera has asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to investigate. The AG’s office says Ohio preparing for a trial next May on a lawsuit filed two years ago against Cargill and Morton over a decade’s worth of salt prices paid by ODOT and other government entities. And the AG’s office says while it continues to monitor salt prices, it can’t comment further.

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