Road salt supplies down, prices up in Indiana

(WISH Photo, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Road salt supplies are down and prices are up as Indiana transportation officials prepare for the upcoming season’s snow and ice following one of the harshest winters on record.

Salt prices on regional bids across the state are now an average of 57 percent higher than last year’s prices, ranging from about $72 a ton to $105 a ton, according to Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield. The highway department has 142,000 tons of salt on hand already, and Wingfield said more is on order.

Salt suppliers and state officials blame the price increases on supply and demand.

For the past five years, the department has used an average of 352,000 tons of salt. Last year, which saw heavy snow and bitterly cold temperatures, the state used more than 437,000 tons of salt.

“It’s just market dynamics, really,” said Nathan Riggs, spokesman for the highway department district that includes Indianapolis. “It will trickle down, and I think that’s what we’re seeing.”

Highway departments across several states, along with salt suppliers themselves, are working to rebuild inventories that were drained by heavy use last winter.

“It was an unprecedented winter across the snow belt last winter,” said Mark Klein, a spokesman for Cargill, one of Indiana’s two salt suppliers. “Huge amounts of road salt were used everywhere. … There was very little left over after last winter.”

Klein said demand for salt is high this year because many expect this to be another rough winter, and states are racing to restock their supplies.

Crews worked all summer, including on Saturdays, at the company’s salt mines in Ohio, New York and Louisiana, and the company has even imported salt from Chile to replenish its supply, Klein said.

Cargill won the right to supply Indiana salt with a bid of $20.9 million, along with North American, which was awarded $28.8 million. The state can adjust the amount it pays by increasing or decreasing its order depending on weather conditions.

Weather predictions vary, with the popular Old Farmer’s Almanac predicting a rough winter, but the Climate Prediction Center forecasting an average or even mild winter.

Riggs doesn’t put much stock in the almanac, saying: “Take it with a grain of salt.”

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