Public works directors around the region are dealing with a shortage of rock salt that has led to slower than normal deliveries and pitches from salesmen hawking alternate products.
One of those products, solar salt, or sea salt, is being used by a number of municipalities, including Johnstown.
“We have salt on order, but not our usual because they’re out of it,” City Engineer Chad Kortz said Wednesday.
Kortz said the city has enough material on hand but the solar salt isn’t as effective as rock salt. He said he hopes this is a temporary fix but wasn’t sure.
“We’re not quite as happy with it, so we want to go back as soon as we can,” Kortz said.
In Saratoga County, Public Works Commissioner Joe Ritchey said deliveries are slower than normal.
“We are lagging behind on our orders,” he said. “We’re talking to our supplier. They said they’re busy but we’re running it down.”
As for whether the situation was getting desperate, Ritchey said, “Not just yet, but if nothing comes before the next event it could get dicey.”
Montgomery County contracts with towns for ice and snow control on county roads, and town of Mohawk Highway Superintendent Bob Holvig said the salt shortage is real.
“I probably have 240 tons, but it’s hard to come by now,” he said.
Holvig said Cargill’s storage building in Fort Plain is nearly empty. And the company’s mine near Ithaca on Cayuga Lake has five pads that each can hold 100,000 tons of salt.
“They’re empty,” Holvig said. “The only place you can get salt is the Port of Albany. I just talked to a contractor who got salt there, and that salt comes from Chile and Argentina.”
Crews can turn to just sand, Holvig said, but it doesn’t work as well.
“It’s good for 18 cars. Once it gets rolled in you have to sand again, so you eat it up in labor and fuel,” he said.
Schenectady County Director of Public Works Joe Ryan said he’s experiencing slow deliveries as well, but fortunately, the county has a very large salt storage shed.
“Right now our shed’s about half full. We’ve been trying to stay on top of it with Cargill,” Ryan said.
He said the county’s shed holds 2,500 tons and policy dictates a reorder after 1,000 tons have been used.
By contract, a salt order is supposed to be delivered within seven to eight days and this year some orders have not been filled for nearly three weeks, he said.
“The game is to keep ahead on your orders so you don’t run out,” Ryan said.
As he spoke early Wednesday afternoon, rain continued to fall and slush filled the streets.
“I’d rather have snow because this is the stuff that consumes salt like crazy,” Ryan said.
Fulton County Superintendent of Highways and Facilities Mark Yost said he’s looking forward to completing a joint venture with the city of Johnstown to build a bigger salt shed.
“Apparently they’re having some salt shortages, and what we’re doing is switching over to salt and sand, which is not as effective when you’re fighting an ice storm,” Yost said.
Fulton County borrowed 90 tons from the state Department of Transportation’s salt shed in Riceville on Monday and will replace it when the supply increases, Yost said.
The new salt shed will be able to accommodate 3,000 tons, he said.
“If I had the storage capacity, it wouldn’t be an issue. But right now, I can only store about 300 tons, so it is an issue,” he said.
A Cargill spokesman didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.