Cold, wet winter drives up salt usage for local cities

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 10, 2014

 A plow clears snow off the road Feb. 6 in Roseville following a snowstorm the previous day.

A plow clears snow off the road Feb. 6 in Roseville following a snowstorm the previous day.

Photo by Deb Jacques

EASTPOINTE/ROSEVILLE — The heavy precipitation and bone-chilling temperatures have not been kind to the salt stocks in Roseville and Eastpointe this winter.With months left to go in the season, both cities have seen greater salt usage than in the past few years’ winters, surpassing expectations and, for Eastpointe, budgeting.

“We have, this season, put 2,400 tons of salt on the ground thus far, which is 1,000 tons over our budget — what we estimated we’d use this year,” Eastpointe Department of Public Works Director Mary Van Haaren said. “We have 200 tons that was delivered (Feb. 3), which is good because we needed it, and we have another 700 tons still coming.”

She said that it would not be surprising if Eastpointe ends up using around 5,000 tons of salt by the end of the icy season — a far cry from the 1,400 tons the city anticipated needing. Van Haaren said 1,400 tons is typically enough to get Eastpointe through the winter with a cushion.

On top of that, salt has become scarce this winter as municipalities scramble to secure supplies after the abnormal weather has drained their stockpiles.

Roseville budgeted for more salt than Eastpointe did, according to its DPW director, Thomas Aiuto, and the city has used a similar amount as its neighbor.

Aiuto said the city started the winter with about 3,000 tons and had already gone through about 2,000 tons through the end of January. As of last week, the city had placed an order for an additional 1,500 tons to refill its salt dome.

“We’ve gone through more salt than we have in the last few years, and it’s only the beginning of February,” Aiuto said. “But January was a big month — we used quite a bit, probably more than we used the entire winter the past two years.”

The price of salt for the 2013-14 winter season is $46.10 per ton.

He added that since much of the snowfall has been on weekends, the city has been paying more overtime, but it has still fallen within its budget so far. He believes that will remain the case, as long as February does not also bring very heavy snowfall with it.

“We have back-to-back record months of snowfall and we may be in trouble, but one way or the other, we’ll get it done,” Aiuto said.

Van Haaren said the additional funds to cover the Eastpointe road salting likely will come from other parts of the road budget. While major projects like road replacements are unaffected due to the way they are financed, other aspects could see their funding reduced.

“It certainly affects what other kinds of roadwork and repair we can do throughout the rest of the year,” Van Haaren said. “So they’ll just not do as much road work and patching as they might otherwise.”

Some of the salt costs will be passed along to the Water Department, Van Haaren said, which uses it to prevent ice from forming during water main breaks in the winter. Other costs, such as overtime and equipment wearing out faster from the additional, unexpected usage, remain with the roads budget.

Both cities have been mindful of salt supplies and weather conditions when spreading salt to try and make it last longer. Aiuto said since salt is not very effective as temperatures drop closer to zero degrees, they save more of it for warmer days to break up ice and packed snow. At that time, he said, plows can go through and move that loosened snow off the roads.

Van Haaren said Eastpointe has conserved salt on those cold days, declining to spread it out when it is too cold for it to be effective. The salt is primarily saved for the main trunk line roads, she said, where the city sees the heaviest traffic.