Cincinnati, Newport deal with salt shortage

NEWPORT, Ky. -- The winter is only half over but officials across the Tri-State say they’re already running out of salt.

The city of Cincinnati has roughly 4,000 tons of salt on hand, according to a press release issued early Friday afternoon. After several inches of snow hit the area later that evening and into early Saturday morning, the city was forced to use about 1,000 tons of salt to treat city streets.

Officials in Newport, Ky. are dealing with a similar problem.

“At this point the city has very nearly depleted our supply of road salt. Our distributor is unable to obtain and provide any additional salt to us at this time,” city officials said Thursday in a news release.

Doug Roell, an employee with the Newport Public Works Department, said it was difficult to prepare for the season because it was impossible to predict just how much snow would fall on the area.

“We’ve already exceeded more than 40 inches of snow and the city is typically only around 22 for the entire season,” he said.

Roell said his city has placed calls to other communities and 10 or 12 different vendors in an effort to get the salt they need. But no one was able to help due to the shortages experienced in all corners of the country.

“We’ve had 200 to 300 tons of salt on order on four weeks and no one has been able to fill the order,” he said. "We have reached out to a number of suppliers and found that at this time there is no salt available in our area."

Much like Newport, many other communities in the Commonwealth are feeling a similar supplies pinch.

Nancy Wood with District 6 of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) said her department begins each winter with about 30,000 tons of salt. So far this year they’ve gone through about 45,000 tons, but the district hasn’t had to dip into the state's supply in Louisville, she said.

As a point of reference, Wood said one ton of salt is enough to treat one lane of roadway for about eight miles. In District 6, which is comprised of the 11 counties that make up Northern Kentucky, there are roughly 3,000 miles of road to treat.

Cincinnati has had a difficult time getting extra salt as well. While the city plans to receive five deliveries totaling 1,000 tons in the upcoming week or two, the other 5,000 tons of salt they have on order won't begin to arrive until the first week of March, according to a release from the city's Public Works Department.

Even communities in the northern most parts of Ohio weren't prepared for the extra snow.

“It is unprecedented for Ohio," Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Jerry Wray told ABC 6 in Columbus, Ohio on Feb. 4. He said the state usually stocks about 600,000 tons of salt; this year, it is approaching 1 million tons.

One of the hardest hit areas is Cleves, Ohio, where village officials are counting on the state for extra salt.

The mayor of the village, Danny Stacy, said Saturday that his community had only 30 tons of salt left in its reserves. He said that's roughly the amount needed to treat roadways during a major snowstorm – which they experienced the following day.

Due to both a dwindling supply and increased demand, the price of salt has gone through the roof, which is a double whammy for many communities that haven't budgeted for extra salt.

“I can’t put (salt) down if I don’t have it and we only have so much money in our budget,” Stacy said. “You can’t bankrupt the entire budget for salt so that’s why we’ll clean the roads with plows… and clean them the best we can.”

Cleves will rely on some of the 210,000 tons of salt ODOT plans to order so they can share it with communities across the state.

Luckily, the situation isn’t quite that dire in Newport, where cost isn't a prohibitive factor in acquiring salt. But even though they have the money to make necessary purchases, they still need to find someone who's able to sell it to them.

To deal with the shortage, road crews have come up with salt-saving plans that involve targeting high priority areas, while sticking with plows and non-salt treatment methods in other parts of the region.

In Cincinnati, crews are pretreating streets with a brine mixture that conserves resources. It takes 40 gallons of brine (using two pounds of salt per gallon) to treat one lane mile. In comparison, it takes 400 pounds of granular salt to treat the same area.

Two brine trucks are still out on the roads to ensure hills and bridges have a good protective layer of salt before heavy snow starts to fall.

In total, the city plans to utilize 51 trucks equipped to plow first and then salt.

Newport is taking a similar approach.

“The normal procedure during a winter weather event is that hospital routes are treated first followed by the hills and then the ‘basin area’ of the city including side streets. All streets are treated in this priority order,” according to the city's release.

In the meantime, officials in Newport said they "appreciate everyone's patience during this difficult time."

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