Feb. 08--Irwin paid $56 a ton for road salt one day and $120 a ton the next.
That's because the borough used all the salt it bought under a state contract and now has to purchase it on the open market, said manager Mary Benko.
"We're limping through," Benko said. "We didn't want to buy it. We had to."
The snowy winter of 2014 has diminished supplies in many municipalities, forcing them to conserve what salt they have and mix it with anti-skid material until they receive additional shipments.
PennDOT is helping out by lending municipalities salt, said Valerie Petersen, a spokesman for District 12, which encompasses 9,000 miles of roads in Westmoreland, Washington, Greene and Fayette counties. She said PennDOT has 20,000 tons of salt in storage and is waiting for 13,000 tons more.
"Remember, winter started around Thanksgiving, and we've had 10 weeks of unrelenting snow followed by ice and have another five to six good, solid weeks of winter left," she said.
The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh forecasts light snow for the county during the weekend and snow showers through Thursday.
Mike Volpe, director of public works for Hempfield, said the price of salt went up $10 a ton -- from $110 to $120 -- in one 24-hour period this week.
Prices for salt vary by county, according to a review of contracts with the state Department of General Services.
For example, Allegheny County is charged $55.43 a ton while Westmoreland pays $53.63, Fayette pays $57.14 and Indiana shells out $59.04.
Municipalities purchase salt through a piggyback deal with the state known as COSTARS. Counties contract for a specific, estimated amount. Once that stockpile is used, governments can borrow an additional supply, up to 140 percent of the original amount. If that is depleted, they can borrow more from the state and repay that supply once they receive additional shipments, according to a memo PennDOT sent to local and state officials on Thursday.
"Municipality needs to be fully aware salt is to be on loan," the memo states.
Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the budget office in Harrisburg, said the state is taking delivery of 2,000 to 4,000 tons of salt each day. Every barge and truck available to haul the material from mines in Canada and New York is in use, but distributors are overwhelmed by the demand, he said.
"The delivery system is really stretched right now," he said.
Municipal officials have complained that salt is sitting on barges at docks along the Monongahela River, but Thompson said those shipments are destined for other parts of the country. Western Pennsylvania receives most of its salt supplies by truck.
"We understand their frustration," he said.
Officials in salt-deprived municipalities must contact the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety for more. Spokesman Dan Stevens said only Hempfield, Irwin and one other community have made requests.
Petersen said PennDOT has received only a few requests.
Volpe said Hempfield received 150 tons of salt on Thursday but has 300 miles of roads to cover. "We're still in salt conservation," he said. "Hopefully, it will be enough to get us through the weekend."
"Once we get through the weekend ... it's going to be a whole lot better and give municipalities a chance to refill their salt bins," Stevens said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or email@example.com.
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