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February 26, 2013

Mild Cass County winter equals too much salt

Mild winter and contract terms leave county with excess

The Cass County Highway Department is ending up with more salt than it needs after another mild winter has made much of the salt it was contracted to buy unnecessary.

“We’re probably going to have at least 200 tons on the contract this year than what we’re going to need,” said Jeff Smith, superintendent of the Cass County Highway Department.

The department’s contract for salt is handled by the Indiana Department of Administration, or IDOA, in conjunction with several other counties.

Smith said when salt prices were rising a few years ago, teaming up together with other counties and the state was the best way to stabilize prices.

“It’s helped lower prices some,” Smith said. “But it does present issues when we can’t use all that we’re contracted for.”

Last winter, the highway department was contracted for 800 tons of treated salt from North American Salt Company at $71 a ton. Because of last year’s mild winter, there was an excess of salt and IDOA allowed counties to defer the salt they were contracted for this year until December.

“The state said we could wait till next season to take the balance of what we contracted for this year,” Smith said, adding the department didn’t need a delivery for this winter’s contract until January.

Because the county was still using salt form last year’s supply, IDOA also allowed it to reduce its normal salt allotment of 800 tons down to 600. Of this 600, Smith said only 200 has been necessary so far.

However, with another mild winter, the deferment and reduction have done little to ebb the amount of salt the department will have to take on.

“Unless we get some nasty weather in March, I just don’t see us using the contracted amount this year,” Smith said.

Smith said he is hoping the state will allow the department to defer and reduce again next year, given the likelihood of another large excess.

“Given recent mild winters, we would probably want to reduce allotment again,” Smith said. “I’m anxious to see what the state does this year.”

Connie Smith, communications manager for IDOA, said the department’s road salt vendor manager obtains projected and on-hand salt tonnage from county highway departments in late March.

“By then, road salt usage due to the amount of snow and ice for this year’s winter season will be a known quantity and an informed decision can be reached,” she said. “Next winter’s road salt needs will be estimated by every user of the road salt contract and the resulting information will determine the type of contract and pricing we will be able to achieve.”

Smith said he will probably try to reduce the amount of salt the department purchases next year as well. While he does have the option to buy more salt than what is contracted for, he said he is wary of doing so because salt prices are only guaranteed up to 120 percent of what the contract states. Any extra is priced at whatever the current rate is.

Dan Williams, superintendent of the Logansport Department of Public Works, said while the city is in the same state-led joint contract as the county for salt, it’s not running into a similar problem.

“We always have enough to do us in the worst conditions for up to two weeks, based on previous years and how much we put down,” Williams said.

Williams said the difference is likely due to the fact that the county has around 900 miles of road to consider when determining its salt needs, whereas the city has around 100 miles.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com.

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