Salt situation: Mild winter leads to extra salt

A mild winter has left the Auglaize County engineer in a unique predicament of what to do with extra salt.

To date this winter, the county has dispatched snowplow trucks 12 times and spread 923 tons of a stone and salt mixture. At this same time last season, county trucks had been sent out 41 different times and applied 4,132 tons of grit mix.

“We were in the middle of an icing event at this time last year where we experienced heavily packed snow and ice compounded with lower than average temperatures,” Auglaize County Engineer Doug Reinhart said.

Between Feb. 1 and Feb. 6, 2011, county crews applied 1,100 tons of grit and consumed 3,700 gallons of diesel fuel, just during the one event.

“We were using the grader and loaders with special ice blades throughout the county attempting to cut through the ice without a whole lot of success,” Reinhart said. “The five-day event’s salt and fuel consumption alone impacted the budget by nearly $50,000, not including any overtime.”

If the winter stays “open,” or mild with no events, for the next two months, Reinhart said they will experience a bit of a dilemma to which they’ve never been challenged before.

The county’s salt bid is set so that they have to purchase at least 80 percent of the salt they requested. The contract also stipulates the company has to be able to supply up to 120 percent of the bid at the same cost if the winter is harsh and more salt is needed. This is a feature of the agreement, the county had to use last year.

Reports in the Wapakoneta Daily News at this time in 2011 speculated that there may actually be a shortage of salt because it had been in such high demand with the bad winter.

Due to the stipulations of the bid, Reinhart said county officials do not expect to see the full impact of salt savings from this winter in its summer program budgets, because they will still need to purchase at least the 80 percent allotment of 1,600 tons, but next winter the county’s salt bid should be less as both salt sheds already will be full.

“That bid, even anticipating a bad winter, should be relatively small compared to normal years,” Reinhart said.

Since purchasing the Ohio Department of Transportation’s old complex, next door to the Auglaize County Engineer’s Office, Reinhart said they have been storing topsoil in the old salt shed. The dry dirt is used to finish every road and bridge project. Plans now are to empty that building, perform some minor repairs to the walls, and anticipate storing the extra salt not used this winter there.

The dirt is expected to be stockpiled outside the building and may be covered later or just used during the spring when needed for a job.

“Keeping the salt at $68 a ton under storage is a very easy call to make versus the soil,” Reinhart said.

In his 28 years as a county engineer and the 10 years as assistant prior to that, Reinhart said he’s never been faced with a situation, or a winter, like this.

“In the winter of 1986 and ’87, we dispatched trucks just 18 times, but used 716 tons of pure salt,” Reinhart said. “In the winter of 1997 and ’98, we went out 29 times and used just 667 tons of pure salt.”

The 923 tons applied to Auglaize County roads this year is a mixture of two parts stone to one part salt. This calculates to the county only using 308 tons of salt to date this season.

The grit mixture has been sprayed with 2,680 gallons of beet juice during certain applications and they have seen good results. If there is more sustained cold weather, crews should be better able to test how it helps in breaking up packed ice, Reinhart said.

“There is still plenty of time left for some nasty winter weather this year,” Reinhart said, “but each day is closer to April.”