City manager: All rules followed in stockpiling road salt, no threat posed

Winburn questions memo's findings

CINCINNATI -- Staffers in Cincinnati’s Public Services Department did nothing illegal or improper when they decided to store 31,000 tons of road salt outdoors on Beekman Street.

City Councilman Charlie Winburn raised concerns two weeks ago that the department was wasting money and possibly posing an environmental threat to the adjacent Millvale neighborhood by stockpiling the salt.

But in a memo issued Monday, Interim City Manager Scott Stiles said procedures were followed in buying and storing the salt.

The city of Cincinnati entered into a contract with Morton Salt Inc. to buy 40,000 tons of road salt in August 2011, the memo stated.

Because the winter of 2011-12 was milder than expected, however, less road salt was needed. As a result, the city’s four salt domes were filled to capacity.

Morton agreed to store the excess salt free of charge at its facility until last February. At the time, the company would begin charging $11 per ton as a storage fee.

“The administration determined it was in the city’s best interest to take possession of the 31,000 tons of salt stored at Morton and thereby saved the city $341,000 in storage fees,” Stiles wrote.

Winburn had criticized the stockpiling. Once he learned about it from a department staffer, he said excess salt should’ve been sold to other jurisdictions.

Also, Winburn worried about possible runoff from the salt pile harming nearby residents.

In his memo, Stiles reported that no federal, state or local permits or authorizations were required to temporarily store salt at the Beekman site.

Further, Ohio has no rules governing salt storage, and it is not a regulated substance under any state or federal regulations, the memo continued.

In all, 8,988 tons of salt was bought for $553,282 from 2011-2012, plus another 31,000 tons of salt for $1.9 million.

Winburn sought answers about the purchase and storage from Public Services Director Michael Robinson. In the memo, however, Stiles noted the decisions were made before Robinson assumed his current position.

Winburn also had asked the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to determine if salt left outdoors has contaminated ground water resources in the area like the Mill Creek.

City staffers followed the industry’s best practices when storing the material outdoors. It includes storing the salt on an impervious pad, keeping a 300-foot setback from any waterways, a 100-foot setback from storm drains and covering the material with tarps to prevent exposure to wind and rain.

The city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability (OES) inspected the stockpile on Dec. 11.

“There were no visible signs of runoff from the salt pile,” Stiles wrote. “OES found no indication of any regulatory violations related to the salt storage at the Beekman (site).”

Asked about the memo, Winburn said, “the city isn’t telling the whole truth.” He said there are management problems in the Public Services Department that he wants investigated.

“The whistleblowers tell me there is more to it and the Public Services Department is in shambles at this time over the issue and has demanded the (human resources) director of city to go to the department and put out the fire,” Winburn said.

“I will be asking City Council to call a independent investigation of the department,” he added. “Salt-gate is just the tip of iceberg.”


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