By Marc Kovac
A lawmaker panel has agreed to pay an expert witness for his testimony in a lawsuit alleging anti-trust activities by two salt companies while at the same time approving the purchase of additional road salt from one of the latter.
The somewhat unusual combination of items on Monday’s Controlling Board agenda drew questions from two Democratic members, but both were approved without objection.
The board, which reviews and signs off on certain state spending and contracting decisions, OK’d a request from the attorney general’s office to pay up to $125,000 to an Indiana man to provide “statistical and economic consulting services ... as well as expert testimony” in a lawsuit against Morton Salt and Cargill, the only companies mining salt in the state.
Howard Marvel, a longtime professor at Ohio State University, will be paid $600 an hour for the task, according to documents.
The attorney general alleges the two companies divvied up the state and manipulated road-salt prices in a scheme that cost state and local governments $50 million or more.
The companies deny the allegations.
The controlling board also signed off on nearly $1 million for the purchase and transport of road salt, thanks to “weather events [that] resulted in a severe shortage of sodium chloride” in certain Ohio Department of Transportation districts.
The total includes $695,000 for 15,000 tons of salt from Morton and $285,000 for the emergency transport of salt from Tennessee.
Morton provided supplies from stockpiles in Ohio and Indiana at a cost of $43 per ton, plus 5,000 tons from Knoxville, Tenn., at a cost of $53 per ton, according to documents.