Woes ahead of winter: Cost of salt skyrocketing

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It may be the first full day of fall, but local cities are already bracing for snow this winter and finding out the cost of salt to keep roads clear has skyrocketed.

For a dozen Cuyahoga County municipalities that joined forces in a consortium to purchase salt, the price per ton of salt will be $49 this winter.

For Lakewood and Shaker Heights, which will use Cargill, that is nearly double the $29 per ton rate they paid last year. The increase will cost Lakewood an additional $100,000.

Rates are also rising for communities that joined together through ODOT to bargain for salt rates from a variety of salt providers, quadrupling for communities in Ashtabula and Portage Counties.

“If we get another winter like we had last year it will have significant impact,” said Shaker Heights Director of Public Works Bill Boag.

Supply and demand is behind the rise. Stockpiles of salt are low after last winter’s unusually harsh conditions left some cities with shortages. Meanwhile, demand is high as communities brace for a potential repeat.

“It's the exact opposite of where we were last year when prices were at a six-year low,” said Cargill spokesman Mark Klein. “There was more salt in the pipeline than it could handle and demand was ho hum.” Klein said Cargill, which has a mine in Cleveland, has staff working Saturdays to produce as much salt as possible.

Lakewood and Shaker Heights officials said the consortium chose to get salt through Cargill, after experiencing delays with another salt provider, Morton, last year.

“The best price in the world doesn't mean anything if you can't get it when you need it,” Boag said. “We had a very good price last year, and we really couldn't get it.”

The new deal should allow them to get salt sooner when needed this winter, they said.

“Lakewood did not want to enter this season with a sense of vulnerability like we had last year,” said Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers. “The price of the salt is certainly a key factor, but availability is even more important.”

Both cities also purchased pre-treatment systems that could reduce the need for road salt during storms.