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Salt in the wound

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About twice as much salt has been dropped along local roads and highways to clear about 3 feet of snow and ice that’s fallen so far this winter.

Winter isn’t over yet, but salt supplies are running low as central Indiana has been hit with more than twice as much snow as is typical.

Local street departments order enough salt to last a typical winter each year and get a discounted price. This winter has not been typical, and the county already has had about an inch more snow than it did in all of   last winter.

With at least two more snowstorms expected in the coming week, street departments might start running out of salt to clear roads. If that happens, they’ll pay more than double the normal price to restock salt barns or could decide to put less salt down on local roads.

The Johnson County Highway Department has used 3,700 tons of salt — it uses 2,300 tons in an average year — and needs to restock. But when it called the normal supplier, it was sold out. That meant shopping around to other companies that all charge more.

Highway director Luke Mastin called around to other counties and cities trying to find a supplier that had salt. He eventually found one, but it was charging $153 a ton, more than twice the $70 per ton the county paid earlier this winter. A few days later he ordered salt while it was still available, and the price had jumped to $182 a ton.

But the county needs salt, so he ordered another 900 tons, which he hopes will last the rest of winter.

Next month, he plans to ask the county council to approve spending an extra $150,000 for road salt, which will come out of savings that the highway department has in case of weather emergencies, he said. Typically the county budgets about $175,000 per year for salt.

Greenwood and Franklin still can order salt from their supplier at the normal price of $60 per ton, but the company can’t promise any deliveries before the end of February — and even that is a maybe. Both have enough to last through the next few storms, since their salt barns are nearly full, but won’t be able to get more if they run out.

“The salt suppliers for the area are having a difficult time even supplying enough salt to meet the contracts that were already in place, and that doesn’t even consider that the vast majority of government agencies need more salt this season,” Mastin said.

If supply starts getting low and cities can’t get more, they might have to begin rationing salt. For example, plow trucks might continue salting main roads and intersections in neighborhoods in Greenwood but stop salting or put less down on subdivision streets, deputy mayor Terry McLaughlin said.

Having multiple storms with breaks in between them, such as what’s in the forecast for the next week, will deplete the city’s salt pile more quickly because crews would have to treat streets for each storm.

The National Weather Service is predicting freezing rain and snow up to about an inch today and Saturday, and meteorologists are tracking another storm that could drop additional snow on central Indiana Tuesday and Wednesday, meteorologist Mike Ryan said. Meteorologists are still watching the storm next week and haven’t determined any snow estimates yet, but it would be enough to require road crews to put down salt so that drivers don’t slide while driving, he said.

“We use as much product putting down for a 2-inch snow as we do for a 10-inch snow,” McLaughlin said.

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