Communities to pay more for road salt this year after heavy usage last winter

Ohio taxpayers will be shelling out more money for road salt this winter over last season.

It is all a matter of supply and demand and weather, according to Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning.

After a harsh winter, ODOT and others need to re-stock supplies for the upcoming season. With the increased demand, the prices go up. Last winter, ODOT used 955,483 tons of salt on 43,000 lane miles of road it covers, making it the second highest salt usage in the past decade.

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ODOT’s bid price for counties in the Miami Valley last winter averaged $50.83 per ton but this coming winter the average price for area counties spiked to $69.58 per ton, a 36.9 percent increase.

Each year, ODOT secures bulk bids from major road salt suppliers, getting a price for each of Ohio’s 88 counties. Cities, counties and other local governments have the option of committing to purchasing through ODOT or seeking their own bids or teaming up with neighboring entities for a regional bid.

If local governments decide to go with ODOT, they must purchase at least 90 percent of the salt they committed to buying. If they go with their own bid, they can reject a bid if they don’t like the price.

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ODOT plows and salts all interstates as well as state and federal highways outside of municipalities. Bruning said the department has 610,000 tons of salt stockpiled in area barns and has ordered another 565,000 tons.

“ODOT is not going to run out of salt. We will have what we need to complete what we need to do this winter,” Bruning said. “We always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

ODOT, and therefore road salt, is funded through state gas taxes drivers pay at the pump.

Nearly a decade ago, investigators with the Ohio Inspector General’s office began analyzing salt price spikes that hit 236 percent and they uncovered evidence of a pricing scheme that cost the state tens of millions of dollars, according to the IG report.

In 2012, the Ohio attorney general filed suit alleging that Morton and Cargill illegally carved up market territory by colluding to submit sham bids to ODOT — an allegation that the companies denied. The lawsuit was settled in 2015 with the companies admitting no wrong doing but agreeing to pay $11.5 million in fines.

Beginning in the late 1990s, ODOT gave a bid preference to salt mined in Ohio that effectively locked out vendors that produced out-of-state salt. Since 1997, Morton and Cargill have been the only two companies mining and selling commercial rock salt in Ohio. The state of Ohio owns two salt mines — one in Fairport Harbor, the other near Cleveland. Each are in 99-year leases with Car-gill and Morton that were signed in 1957 and 1959.

The state has since changed its bidding rules.

For the upcoming season, ODOT is buying salt from five vendors, including Morton and Cargill.

How much road salt has ODOT used in recent years?

2018: 955, 483 tons

2017: 594,859 tons

2016: 547,181 tons

2015: 953,012 tons

2014: 1,054,017 tons

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