SIKESTON - Last year's frigid temperatures and winter weather that both began earlier and ran longer than usual has resulted in a high demand for road salt around the nation. Road salt producers have reported low reserves with some unable to even meet the demand for their product.
Locally, however, highway departments are only reporting modest increases in price and have as yet experienced no difficulty finding salt.
"I haven't heard of a shortage," said Vance Raines, street superintendent for the city of Sikeston. "We really haven't tried to order any yet, but the quotes we got were slightly higher."
Raines said salt usually runs around $32 per ton delivered from Morton Salt in St. Louis. Prices this year have been slightly higher at $38 to $42 per ton, according to Raines, "depending on whether we order early or not."
Raines said the city's stockpile bins, which hold a total of 500 tons, are full. "It's kind of tough to order more when there's no place to put it," he said. Raines said he may try to place an order for later delivery depending on what the weather actually does.
The amount used each season by Sikeston "depends on the winter," Raines said. He recalled about 700 tons of salt were used last year. "The year before that I don't think we even used 400 tons."
The Miner street department has not needed to price road salt this year and, unless there is a severe winter, probably won't need to buy any. "We figure we got enough to get us through the winter," said Dub Higdon of Miner's maintenance department. "We still got probably eight tons left from last year, so it'll be a while before we need any."
Miner's road crews use the salt to make a pretreatment solution which is sprayed in advance of snow or sleet to make clearing roads easier, Higdon said, and cinders are laid down to provide traction.
The amount of road salt used in a season varies with the weather, "but last year we used about 7-8 tons," said Higdon.
Other area governments responsible for keeping roads clear also reported they use so little road salt that they are practically unaffected by any shortages or price increases.
"We don't use that much salt," said Terry Herndon, county highway engineer for Scott County. "I think last winter we used 30 tons."
He explained the county uses a mixture of salt, sand and cinders partly because many people don't like getting salt on their cars, but primarily to keep the cost down.
As far as how much salt the county will need, "we won't know until winter," said Herndon. He reported the county's storage bin, which holds 50 or 60 tons, still has some of the salt-sand-cinder mix left over from last year left.
Richard Wallace, county road and bridge superintendent for Mississippi County, said his crews clear roads with snow plows and road graders but don't put any salt or other mixtures down.
The two main routes passing through Charleston, Marshall and Main streets, are both state highways. "We don't use much salt. The (state) highway department pretty much takes care of our streets," said David Brewer, Charleston's city manager.
Brewer said the city mainly uses cinders, mostly on the intersections. "We use a little salt - not much," he said. "Maybe a ton."
Although he didn't have the figures immediately available, Darrell Barnes, district procurement supervisor for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said he recalled seeing a slight increase in road salt price over last year for the statewide contract. "We buy it off contract from Jeff City," Barnes said.
The MoDOT district which services state highways in Southeast Missouri ordered approximately 7,100 tons of road salt to top off storage bins at maintenance sheds throughout the district, according to Barnes.
Much of MoDOT's stockpiled salt will be used to make a pretreatment salt brine, Barnes said.
Some information for this story was supplied by the Associated Press.