AUGUSTA — With its road salt supply dwindling and its supplier apparently unable to provide much more, the city will use a lot less salt and more sand on the roads through the rest of this winter.
Lesley Jones, public works director, said the city is down to enough salt in its sand and salt shed for one storm, or maybe a storm and a half, and has another five loads ordered from its salt supplier, Harcros Chemicals, to replace what’s in the shed now.
But, after those loads — roughly 30-yards each — are delivered, the city won’t be able to get any more salt, Jones said. As a result, the city has already altered the sand and salt mix it puts on roads, switching from a mix of 75 percent salt and 25 percent sand to the opposite — 25 percent salt and 75 percent sand — in an effort to make the city’s supply last through the rest of the plowing, sanding and salting season.
Jones said other salt suppliers indicated they didn’t have any salt for a new customer like Augusta. Their supplies are also tight because of this winter’s brutal cold, both in Maine and elsewhere across the country.
“We called eight vendors, looking for salt, and they told us we could go to Baltimore to get some,” Jones said of efforts to find an alternate salt supplier.
She warned motorists could have to contend with ice sticking to the roads longer, because of the city’s salt-saving flip flop of its sand-to-salt ratio.
“The roads will be in a different condition,” she said. “It’s going to impact the quality of the service. The ice just isn’t going to melt (as well as it did when more salt was used). My concern is we’ve still got six weeks of the season left.”
City Manager William Bridgeo said this is the first time in his 38 years in municipal government he’s heard of salt not being available.
Jones said Harcros officials said the city would get the five loads it already ordered, probably next week, but the company wouldn’t be able to supply any more than that.
Harcros officials at its Westbrook plant referred questions to its Kansas City headquarters, where an official did not return a call seeking comment.
Jones said the city orders its salt through a joint buying partnership with the state Division of Purchases.
David Heidrich, a spokesman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, which includes the Division of Purchases, said municipalities can order their salt through the state at the beginning of the season. If a municipality needs to order more salt mid or late season, the state can help put local officials in touch with other suppliers.
However, Jones said Augusta officials were told by other suppliers they weren’t taking on any new customers.
Eric Conrad, spokesman for Maine Municipal Association, said municipalities are running low on sand and salt and are struggling to maintain their roads without busting their maintenance budgets this winter.
“It’s not really a surprise,” Conrad said. “I think we all know it has been a tough winter. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of some members running low.”
He said many municipalities are also running low on sand.
“These are the core services towns and cities provide — salt, sand, maintaining roads, that’s what towns and cities do,” Conrad said. “And if you pull back too far on budgets, you can come to regret it, because you can’t get around on the ice and snow unless the roads are clear.”
The state Department of Transportation has not had any problems getting enough salt for road maintenance, according to Ted Talbot, spokesman for the department. Nor, he said, does the department anticipate having any road salt supply issues.
The National Weather Service forecast for Augusta includes predictions of mostly low temperatures over the next seven days, with a chance of snow Sunday night and Monday.
Keith Edwards – 621-5647 firstname.lastname@example.org