Drive carefully if snow and sleet cover the streets Sunday. The city has only enough salt to keep the steepest hills and busiest intersections safe.
“There’s too little salt. We ran out the other day,” Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said Friday. “If I had a storm today, I would not have enough, and there’s supposed to be a storm on Sunday. This is not a good situation.”
The city has been begging its supplier for more salt all season, Olsen said, but deliveries have been backed up for weeks.
“It’s not a budget issue — we have the [money] — we can’t get the deliveries,” Olsen said. “We’ve mixed stonechip to try to stretch the salt. We’ve been doing that all season.”
He needs a minimum of 300 tons of salt to de-ice the city during a minor storm. A big storm can use up 1,200 tons. Right now, the city has only 100 tons of salt left.
He’s still holding out hope for a last-minute delivery today, but he’s been calling state contract supplier Cargill for weeks to no avail.
“I’ve called Cargill every day, several times a day,” Olsen said.
Cargill is under contract to supply the city’s salt, as well as many other municipalities in the area. All of them report shortages and long delays in salt shipments.
Olsen is willing to buy salt from anyone else — but he can’t find any other suppliers.
“It’s not like you can say, I’m going to get it from vendor X. There’s not that many vendors and without a contract in advance, they will fulfill their contractual obligations first,” Olsen said. “If there was availability, we could buy it.”
For now, he’s facing the possibility of completely emptying his salt shed during Sunday’s expected weather. He has prioritized streets, deciding which areas will get salt.
“We’ll only salt the hills, grades, intersections,” he said. “Anywhere you have a steep hill or a busy intersection. The flats may not have salt.”
Luckily, Sunday’s storm is expected to be minor. The National Weather Service is predicting rain with some snow and sleet.
“That ought to buy us some time,” Olsen said.
But even a little snow and sleet can get dicey without salted streets, said meteorologist Robert Kilpatrick.
“It doesn’t look too terribly good,” he said. “The weather of real concern is probably going to be Sunday and Sunday night.”
After the storm Sunday, there will be more rain Monday night, he said. He warned that the weather will turn very cold after that, with temperatures in the mid-20s by Tuesday morning.
Cargill did not return repeated calls seeking comment over the course of the week.
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