Salt Shortages and Price Hikes

By: Mallory Brooke Email
By: Mallory Brooke Email

Officials in Charleston, West Virginia are urging all districts to try and conserve 30 percent of their salt supply during a national shortage.

Salt reserves are low after a grueling winter last year in the Midwest. This left six out of the ten districts in West Virginia without bids for salt this year.

District 5 and District 8, which are the ones closest to the Valley, say they have enough but the price has nearly doubled.

Lee Thorne is the District 5 Maintenance Engineer, which covers Hardy and Grant counties. He said both counties initially did not receive the bid for salt. However, the contract was changed to include them later on in the Fall.

While the counties are now included, prices are sky high compared to last year.

"Prices last year varied from $42 to $54 and now they are in the range of $72 to $92," says Thorne.

State officials are asking every district to conserve their salt supply this winter.

Thorne says, "We are taking steps to try to conserve. Received directions from our central office is that we are to try to conserve, cut back our usage 30percent from what we typically would use in a winter."

The central office is asking districts to use a three to one ratio of cinders and salt. Thorne says that it's not as efficient as using all salt.

However, Darell Warner in District 8 disagrees. That district covers Pendleton County and has always used a mixture of the two because salt loses some efficiency when the temperature drops below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, if roads are slick, at least there is something for tired to grip.

District 8 was somewhat lucky, as it was able to load its five salt houses before the old contract ended.

"We filled them up, late summer and fall, and bought the salt off the old contract at $60 a ton," says Warner.

The new contract is for $125 a ton, and Warner says they should be able to get through the winter on the current supply, barring any catastrophic snow storms.

Warner says, "And there's 30,000 tons of this at Elkins, covered under a tarp. Of course if you want it, it's $125 a ton. So we'll wait a little bit and we see what our needs are and usages are."

West Virginia's first winter hit happened on the first day of Winter Weather Awareness Week.

Warner says drivers also have a responsibility this winter. During bad weather, drivers should not be on the roads unless it is absolutely necessary. He also says that in the 19 years he has held his position, he's seen maybe two cars with chains on their tires.

In a mountainous region of the state that's often compared to the Rockies, drivers cannot completely rely on road crews. In heavy snow storms, snow often blankets the ground quicker than plows can make their routes.

On top of that, if temperatures are below 25 degrees, salt will not work efficiently. Therefore, the mixture between the salt and cinders will help the most, especially if drivers have chains on their tires.

Warner also says that Virginia has been using a calcium chloride solution that helps melt the snow and ice quicker. West Virginia hopes to begin using the solution next winter, but has some reservations about what the solution does to the actual roadway.


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