September 2, 2014 at 10:23 am

Metro Detroit counties feel pinch of salt

Road salt is loaded into dump trucks in the Clinton Township salt barn in February. Some expect this winter to be as bad as the last one. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

The brutal winter of 2013-14 may be over but it’s still having an effect on county road budgets when it comes to the price of salt.

Road agencies preparing for the winter are reporting hefty price spikes in the most commonly used item to combat icy Metro area roadways.

Washtenaw County reports 46 percent and 122 percent price hikes. Wayne County says prices it’s paying have nearly doubled. Macomb County expects its costs will likely rise $30 a ton between deliveries. And Oakland County expects to pay 25 percent more to get ready for this winter, which some forecasters say will be just as cold and snowy as last winter.

The statewide average price for road salt is $65.71 per ton for the 2014-15 winter season, up 46.3 percent from last year, according to the County Road Association of Michigan.

The increase in salt costs will affect the maintenance and repair budgets of road agencies across the state, the association says. The Snyder administration estimates Michigan needs $1.2 billion more a year to keep up with road and bridge maintenance.

“The harsh winter last year caused many road agencies, and other public entities ... to deplete their salt reserves,” association spokeswoman Denise Donohue said. “As the demand for early salt delivery increased this year, so did the price.”

Road commissions normally pay two prices for salt; one for early fill deliveries before Oct. 1, and then a different price for post-Oct. 1 deliveries.

“Last year we paid $47 per ton of salt, which we’ll pay again this year for early fill,” Macomb County maintenance supervisor Leo Ciavatta said.

“But after early fill this year, the price almost doubles to $77 per ton. Last year put a hurt on our budget, but this year salt costs are going to murder us.”

According to Ciavatta, Macomb County uses an average of 50,000 tons of salt on its roads. For the wicked winter of 2013-14 the county used 73,000 tons.

“We want to stockpile about 50,000 tons by Oct. 1,” Ciavatta said. “After that we order salt on an as- needed basis.”

The Washtenaw County Road Commission buys through the MiDEAL purchasing program and reported a 122 percent increase in the price of salt for the early fill delivery and a 46 percent increase for a backup salt delivery, if needed, later in the winter.

“The increase in salt price represents an increase of approximately $500,000-$600,000 in our 2014-15 winter expenses,” said Jim Harmon, director of operations for the Washtenaw road commission.

“We are attempting to do more with less and the budget hits just keep on coming. We’re dealing with the same revenues we had a decade ago, and the cost of materials keeps increasing, making it harder to deliver the level of service the public expects.”

The Wayne County Department of Public Services road division has seen the cost of salt rise from $39.50 per ton for the winter of 2008-09 to $74.72 for the coming winter.

“That’s almost a 100 percent increase for our early fill program,” roads division spokeswoman Cindy Dingell said.

“We’ve put in an order for 33,000 tons of salt for early fill so you can see we’re paying a lot more money now than a few years back.”

For the 2011-12 winter, Wayne County used 39,997 tons of salt. That rose to 68,139 tons for 2012-13 and 109,192 in 2013-14.

The budget for the Road Commission for Oakland County isn’t being hit that hard, but it is paying more per ton this year than last, according to spokesman Craig Bryson.

“Our price for salt this year is $49.90 per ton compared to $39.82 per ton last year; a 25 percent increase,” Bryson said.

“Our early fill cost for this year will be $49.40 per ton until Oct. 1, then it goes up by 50 cents a ton afterwards.”

Once salt domes are filled, county road agencies then put in orders on an as needed basis, according to Bryson. Last winter, the county used 100,000 tons of salt, compared to a five-year average of 63,000 tons.

“We went $2 million over budget, which includes salt, overtime, fuel, equipment repairs and so on,” he said.
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