Ohio faces high prices for road salt this winter

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CLEVELAND (AP) — A harsh winter and low inventory have driven up prices for road salt so much that the Ohio Department of Transportation will use an Indiana supplier to meet the needs of the state and communities that had problems obtaining salt at affordable prices.

The polar vortex that delivered large amounts of snow to the region last winter depleted state salt sheds and diminished inventories at the salt mines themselves. Those empty sheds prompted ODOT to put out an additional bid this summer to ensure an adequate stockpile by the arrival of the first substantial snowfall.

ODOT used a record 1 million tons of road salt last winter compared with the average of 630,000, said department spokesman Steve Faulkner. Some communities ran out of salt before winter's end.

The state employs a complicated buying program that allows counties and communities to join in and receive bids from salt suppliers for their winter supply, although not all communities participate.

The prices, which are bid on by county, were higher than last year in the first round of bidding — between $36 a ton and $81 a ton, compared to the state average of $35 per ton last year. Some communities waited until the second round in hopes of getting a better price and got burned: prices went up, including one quote of $165 per ton.

Ten counties in northwest Ohio received no bids at all while 15 more were quoted prices of more than $100 a ton, bids that ODOT rejected. The agency considered a third round of bids, but this week decided to buy an additional 170,000 tons from Midwest Salt in Indiana at $105 a ton. The state will share that salt with counties that had problems buying at affordable prices and need to acquire some, Faulkner said.

The only two bidders in that second round were Cargill and Morton Salt, both of which have mines along Lake Erie in northeast Ohio. The state attorney general's office has a price-fixing lawsuit pending against both companies. A spokeswoman with the attorney general's office declined to comment on the bids because of the lawsuit.

Mark Klein, a spokesman for Minneapolis-based Cargill, said the company's mines are operating on Saturdays to replenish their inventory. Cargill has a mine near downtown Cleveland.

"We've done a good job with our prices in Ohio," Klein said. "Given the supply and demands, we think Cargill has been pretty fair."