City changes salt plans for upcoming winter


File photo Jenna Watson / The Kent Stater Due to an extreme winter, the city of Kent has been experiencing a shortage of salt used to keep the roads and sidewalks clear of ice.

Christina Bucciere

Despite rising salt costs and a severe winter last year, the City of Kent’s Public Service Department has stocked up on salt to combat the coming winter’s snowfall. 

Eugene Roberts, Kent’s public service director, said the city’s salt dome currently holds an excess of 5,000 tons of rock salt. Last year, cities across Northeast Ohio were forced to ration salt to make it last an extended winter season. This year, the Kent Public Service Department plans to reduce its dependence on salt by utilizing the city’s snowplows more often.

“We started rationing salt last year early because we heard that the shipment of replacement salt was not flowing extremely easy,” Roberts said. “They had problems because of the winter, getting the salt out of the mines, the stockpiles they had were depleted early, so we started talking about it in December and implementing it right before Christmas.”

The City of Kent is under contract with the Ohio Department of Transportation to take part in the co-op purchase agreement through which Portage County and its municipalities place a bid indicating how much salt they want to purchase for the winter season. Each community enters into an individual agreement with the salt supplier.

This year, Kent entered into an agreement with Morton Salt to purchase 4,000 tons of salt at approximately $108 per ton, or $432,000. The price of salt is up from approximately $28 per ton for the 2013-2014 winter season.

The city is working to to opt out of its ODOT contract so it does not have to pay the increased price, said Gerald Shanley, Kent facilities manager.

“We’re sitting better than a lot of other communities because the salt barn is full, and we have 15,000 gallons of liquid de-icing material, so we’re in good shape,” Shanley said. “If we are committed to the $108, we want to restock at the minimum. Instead of purchasing 4,000 tons, we’re looking at about 1,500 tons.”

If the city can opt out of its ODOT contract, Shanley said it will consider filling up its salt barn in the summer through alternative salt suppliers using city trucks at a reduced cost.

The long-range weather forecast for the 2014-2015 Ohio Valley winter provided by the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the weather reference guide published every September, predicts “snowfall will be above normal,” according to its website.

“If the winter is as bad as last year’s, we’ll probably go through at least half the salt supply in the dome,” Roberts said.

The city used approximately 4,200 tons of salt for the 2013-2014 winter season, Shanley said.

But because of the early rationing efforts throughout the 2013-2014 winter season, coupled with salt-reducing application techniques and plowing methods, Roberts said the city is in a good position to take on another brutal winter.

One way the city has cut salt usage the past few winter seasons is plowing techniques.

Instead of salting residential neighborhoods, the city plows them, and focuses on providing every street with a dry intesection when reaching a main road to be able to sto and pull out safely.

“We don’t attempt to salt except at intersections, so everybody has the ability to stop, and we were happy to see there was no increase in motor vehicle accidents. That in and of itself saves us a tremendous amount of salt,” Roberts said.

The city still plans to salt all major “arterial” roads used for emergency purposes, as well as school zones and all major roads, with its 12 salt trucks, Roberts said.

The city also mixes its own liquid salt to spray on the rock salt it purchases. The liquid salt helps to melt the rock salt, which melts more snow quicker. This helps the city to use several tons less salt Roberts said.

Because salt suppliers are still playing catch-up to fill Ohio salt domes after a rough 2013-2014 winter, Roberts said the city is looking for new ways to stay on top of the salt supply and use it conservatively, which might mean deviating from the system.

“The bottom line is we will have to start looking for salt in other locations,” Roberts said. “We have to manage our financial resources against next year because we can’t just look at the immediate winter we’re coming into. We have to project out and look at what’s going to happen in the 2015-2016 winter.”

Contact Christina Bucciere at [email protected].