By Elizabeth Randolph and Raymond Allan
When Kent facilities manager and city arborist Gerald Shanley looked at the prices of rock salt to purchase last winter, he saw a significant increase in the price of salt.
“From 2013-2014, the price of salt was $27.50 a ton,” Shanley said. “We went into 2015 with a full barn of salt, but found that the price had went from $27.50 to $108 a ton.”
The increase in the price of salt caused Shanley and his crew to use the existing salt they purchased in previous years.
“We were able to use salt that we already had, so we didn’t have to purchase salt at that rate because it would’ve been tremendous,” Shanley said. “Even though last year was a bad winter, we were able to minimize the salt and still keep the roads safe.”
The issue Shanley faced with the overpricing of salt was the same in many cities in the state of Ohio over the last few years. In March 2012, Attorney General Mike DeWine filed an antitrust lawsuit against salt companies Morton and Cargill. DeWine claimed that Morton and Cargill were dividing up the Ohio market unlawfully, which caused The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), counties, cities and other public entities to have to raise its prices on rock salt. The case ended in Morton and Cargill paying Ohio $11.5 million in a settlement ($7.7 million from Cargill and $3.8 million from Morton).
Kate Hanson is the public information officer for DeWine’s office and said the attorney general’s intentions with the settlement was to distribute a significant amount to purchasers of rock salt in various parts of Ohio.
“There was about $6.8 million that was available to them (cities, public entities, counties),” Hanson said. “Over the summer, we held a claims process so we could see how much to distribute.”
Hanson said money was sent to more than 87 entities following the settlement. The city of Akron and Summit County was among the state’s top claims payments. The city of Kent was given almost $16,000.
Shanley said while the money didn’t directly go to rock salt purchases, he would be able to use some of the funds, if needed.
“The money from the settlement went into the city’s general fund,” Shanley said. “We will pull money out of that fund if we need salt, but we don’t really have a salt budget, there’s no operating materials within the city.”
While the Morton and Cargill settlement did bring more money to Kent, Shanley will be monitoring salt usage, as he’s done in previous winters.
“We’re in good shape budget-wise this year, but we’re going to ration (on rock salt) this year,” Shanley said.
Shanley said working with other cities like Akron could also lower the price of salt this year. He’s also using other methods to salt the roads to cut back on the use of salt.
“We’re using a brine called ‘AquaSalina,’” Shanley said. “A lot of communities are starting to use that because it’s cost-effective. We have to salt the roads or find other ways to treat the streets, which we’re already doing because of salt prices.”
Hanson said while the cities were given the money to use for whatever they choose, DeWine encourages cities to use the earnings to ensure the roads are safe for citizens this winter. She also encourages citizens of Ohio to call the Attorney General’s office if they have vulnerabilities.
“Anyone can report suspected unfair activities to the office,” she said.
Shanley anticipates phone calls this winter just as he’s had them in previous winters and wants residents to not hesitate to take action.
“There may not be a lot of salt, but we’ll do our best to plow, especially with the side streets,” he said. “If you don’t see a truck all day, call us. Each year it’s a challenge, but we do the best we can to keep everyone safe.”