America Is Running Low on Road Salt. Thanks, Winter.

The country is experiencing a run on salt.

National Journal
Brian Resnick
Feb. 5, 2014, 8:26 a.m.

This winter, with its po­lar vor­tices and fre­quent storms, has driv­en up de­mand for road salt so much that mu­ni­cip­al­it­ies are start­ing to run low on sup­plies. And loc­al news out­lets are cry­ing “crisis.”

Here are some of their cries:

  • In West Mo­re­land County, Pa., CBS is call­ing the salt situ­ation dire. “We were prom­ised 400 tons last week,” a pub­lic-works of­fi­cial in the area told the out­let. “We only got 75 ton. We were prom­ised 100 ton today; I got 100 ton.”

  • In Delaware County, N.J., the town­ship roads com­mis­sion­er told a loc­al pa­per, “We’re as close to a state of emer­gency as you can get,” and said salt vendors are telling him they are out of stock.

  • New York state is cur­rently re­lo­cat­ing 3,500 tons of the min­er­al down to Long Is­land from up­state, due to short­ages.

And many more.

Faced with steep, sud­den de­mand, ma­jor salt man­u­fac­tur­ers have turned to pri­or­it­iz­ing where to send their product. Mor­ton Salt, which pro­duces the min­er­al for roads as well as for food, told of­fi­cials in Clev­e­land “they can only bring up 10,000 tons a day and, about a week ago, were about 23,000 tons be­hind.”

Mor­ton ac­know­ledges its delayed de­liv­er­ies. “We know this is frus­trat­ing for cus­tom­ers and com­munit­ies, and we apo­lo­gize,” the com­pany said in a state­ment.

But why are sup­plies so low?

“There’s been high us­age, and then every­body want­ing to get the last of their con­trac­ted salt kind of at the same time, and it’s just a nar­row­er win­dow to get the salt,” says Mark Klein, a spokes­man for Car­gill, a ma­jor sup­pli­er of road salt.

So it’s ac­tu­ally more of a salt bot­tle­neck than a salt short­age.

The prob­lem is that mu­ni­cip­al­it­ies place their salt or­ders in the fall, based on pri­or us­age and long-range fore­casts. They typ­ic­ally re­ceive a min­im­um or­der be­fore the winter sea­son be­gins and re­serve the right to or­der up to a pre­de­ter­mined max­im­um amount. What’s hap­pen­ing now is that some loc­a­tions are ask­ing for their max­im­ums, all at once.

While bad weath­er in­creases de­mand for salt, it also makes de­liv­er­ing that salt much harder. Salt-car­ry­ing barges can’t pass through frozen rivers. Freight trains need to plow the path ahead of them. And de­liv­ery by truck is sty­mied for the same reas­on road salt is needed in the first place.

“These storms have just been re­lent­less,” Klein says, not­ing that it’s not the huge storms that drop a foot of snow that tax the salt sup­ply, the kind that call for snow plows. It’s the re­peated dust­ings of snow and ice. At this time last year, salt miners were work­ing less than a 40 hours a week. There were even some lay­offs. This year, “we’re work­ing over­time in our mines,” Klein says. In those mines, work­ers are blast­ing gi­ant 45-foot-by-25 foot walls of salt and then pro­cessing the crys­tals down to size for road use.

As de­mand for road salt soars, so do its prices. In the Chica­go sub­urbs, for ex­ample, of­fi­cials say prices are three times high­er than nor­mal. The Southtown Star re­ports that one pub­lic-works dir­ect­or “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 told the pa­per.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×