News

Franklin County pays most for road salt

Written by Jim Hook/Chambersburg Public Opinion | Dec 3, 2015 8:45 AM
snowy_road.jpg

(Chambersburg) --  Municipalities in Franklin County this year are paying among the highest rates in Pennsylvania for road salt and a third more than they paid last year.

But motorists shouldn't lose traction. Municipal officials say they have adequate supplies. They mix salt with grit before scattering the "anti-skid" on icy and snowy roads.

Warm temperatures this winter might wash out the financial impact.

"All indications are we're going to have a mild winter," Guilford Township Supervisor Ted Bittinger said. "If the weather cooperates, we'll come out decent. Last year at this time we already had 2 to 3 inches of snow. It's to be a little milder to start (the winter) and wet in the way of rain, then colder toward the end."

This year the price that municipalities in Franklin County pay jumped 29 percent, to nearly $88 a ton, up from $68 a ton last winter.

"I'm currently doing some research to see if we can find a cheaper source," Chambersburg Borough Public Works Director David Finch said. "We put some extra money in the salt budget this year, but we won't know how the higher prices are going to affect the budget until we see how much snow we will get in the coming months, and therefore how much additional salt we will have to buy."

Hamilton Township would pay about $5,000 more this season for salt if the township buys its usual 250 tons.

"Normally the salt price is something that goes up every year," Hamilton Township Supervisor Mike Kissinger said. "I don't know why the increase is so much this year. I can't think transportation would take it to that cost."

The price of road salt has nearly doubled over the past eight years. During the winter of 2007-8, local municipalities were paying about $50 a ton for road salt.

Most Pennsylvania townships and boroughs sign onto state contracts for road salt. Three vendors this year contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Potter, Delaware and Montgomery counties are paying the least ($64 a ton) to piggyback on the PennDOT contracts. The highest prices are in Franklin, Cumberland ($86 a ton), Philadelphia ($85), Dauphin ($84), Pike ($83) and Adams ($82) counties.

The average price of $72 a ton is not bad, considering the harsh winter last year, said Troy Thompson, spokesman for the state Department of General Services. The average price in Pennsylvania went up 12 percent.

"We've had a substantial jump in prices over the past few years," said Greg Penny, spokesman for PennDOT District 8. The "polar vortex" cut deep into southern states, who demanded more salt.

"The harsh weather the past two winter seasons depleted supplies and created significant costs in production, sourcing, transportation and distribution, which is why certain municipalities in Pennsylvania have seen a price increase this year," said Katherine Riemer, spokeswoman for Morton Salt Inc. "Our prices include the freight cost to deliver salt to the designated delivery location for these municipalities. Franklin County has the highest contract price in the region because it is located the farthest away from our Baltimore stockpile."

PennDOT stations in Franklin and the seven other counties of District 8 already have more salt on hand than crews use in a typical winter.

"We're in good shape going into winter," Penny said. "The last two winter seasons have been harsh compared with previous years."

PennDOT typically uses 72,500 tons of salt per season. The district used nearly 116,000 tons last year and 143,000 tons the year before. The lowest amount was 28,300 tons for the winter of 2004-5. This year PennDOT already has 106,000 tons in area sheds.

Municipalities take the rising cost in stride because safe roads are a top priority. In the spring they either have less or more money for road maintenance.

"We're not happy with the higher prices because it drives up the cost of doing business," Penny said. "We also feel that more money spent on salt means less money available for roadwork. A mild winter could change the dynamics."

A strong El Nino has been forming in the Pacific. That means above-average storminess in the Northeast and less lake-effect snow around the Great Lakes, according to AccuWeather.com.

"We see impressive signals that the overall mild pattern that got rolling in the Central and Eastern states during October and November will hold through December and into January," AccuWeather Chief Long Range Meteorologist Paul PastelokIt said.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF.

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