By ROBERT CONNELLY
Some Mahoning Valley communities will be reaching out to Ohio’s attorney general about increased road-salt prices, while others continue to decide the next step.
County engineers for Trumbull, Columbiana and Mahoning have rejected as too costly getting salt through the Ohio Department of Transportation’s state purchasing program.
Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith said there are now three options:
Continue to mix road salt with other treatments.
Pre-treat roads with brine, a salt-water waste.
Partner with surrounding communities to purchase a 20,000-ton barge at a rate of $98 a ton. But those communities would have to split the cost of picking up the salt from Lake Erie.
Trumbull County rejected a bid from ODOT for $127 a ton while Columbiana rejected a bid of $102.70 a ton. Mahoning County’s rejected bid was between $146 and $148.
All three counties, however, were able to get some rock salt through a summer purchase program earlier this year.
Mahoning County paid $42 per ton for summer orders, higher than the $27 a ton during last winter. Figures for how many tons Mahoning County ordered were unavailable Tuesday.
Columbiana County paid $54.95 per ton for the summer order, which was higher than the $36.45 a ton during last year, to order 3,200 tons, Columbiana County Engineer Bert Dawson said. He added the county was able to order more during the summer purchase because of rock salt storage containers built just last year, but still seeks 800 tons.
“That was pretty good timing,” Dawson noted.
Smith said Trumbull County’s summer purchase price was $44 a ton, compared with about $27 all of last year.
“We wanted to go 50-50 summer and winter fill [up orders] because no one was sure how the prices were going to come in,” Smith said of purchasing 7,000 tons over the summer. That represented about 46 percent of Trumbull County’s needs for the winter, and the county looks to buy another 8,000 tons.
“We essentially have 50 percent of what we anticipate using in the salt dome so now, we’re just waiting for that remaining 50 percent,” Smith explained. “With a very typical winter we should be good through January, so it’s not necessarily that we’re needing to purchase salt now. We could wait until early 2015 to buy more.”
“It’s one of those situations where we all know this is going to be an issue, so everyone’s on the same page with this,” Boardman Township Administrator Jason Loree said. “If this is the new norm or new cost of salt prices around here, it’s obviously going to be a change of business for us.”
Loree and Austintown Township Administrator Mike Dockry are both working on letters to the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine regarding the increased pricing.
But Dawson said there is no need for Columbiana County to contact the attorney general because it is already involved in an ongoing lawsuit against Morton Salt Inc. and Cargill Inc. that accuses the two salt companies of driving up prices for Ohio communities.
That lawsuit was filed by DeWine in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court against both companies on March 31, 2012. DeWine alleged that the actions by Morton and Cargill “resulted in above-market prices being paid by the Ohio Department of Transportation and other government entities around the state for rock salt.”
DeWine’s office said the companies divided the state into markets so that they would not compete against each other over the last decade. The jury trial in the case is set to begin May 12, 2015, online court records show.
Mahoning and Columbiana counties are specifically cited in a section alleging Morton and Cargill’s collusive conduct and bidding. The lawsuit says Morton won the bids for both counties in 2009 through the ODOT bid process, at $60.49 a ton for Columbiana and $58.02 a ton for Mahoning. While that happened, Cargill bid much higher, $86.01 and $85.08 per ton respectively, while five days earlier in both cases, Cargill bid $58.92 for Beaver County, Pa., and $54.78 for Lawrence County, Pa.
Asked about the current increases, Dan Tierney, spokesman for DeWine, said in an email: “While we are aware of recent concerns about the price of rock salt and continue to monitor rock salt pricing, we cannot further comment on the issue due to the pending litigation.”
But in terms of the prices now, Loree said, “I don’t think we’re going to see too much relief if the attorney general does not take up” the 2014 pricing, because of the length of court proceedings, he explained.
Sean T. McKinney, Youngstown’s superintendent of buildings and grounds, said he was “pretty amazed” at the new rates being charged to local governments for road salt.
Reading in Tuesday’s Vindicator about the rate increases — Canfield and Austintown paid $27 a ton last year with the new rates between $146 and $148 a ton this year — McKinney said, “Hopefully ODOT or the attorney general can do something about this. I hope we don’t have the type of winter we had last year.”
Youngstown’s contract with Cargill Inc., which has a depot near Cleveland, expires Oct. 31.
The city pays $37.89 a ton for salt under that deal, McKinney said.
The city purchased 14,000 tons of salt last winter season and has 2,000 tons remaining from that amount, he said. Also, the city recently purchased another 3,000 tons that it is storing in its salt dome, which is now at near-full capacity, he said.
Youngstown will seek salt proposals sometime next month, McKinney said.
Contributor: Staff writer David Skolnick