Shouldn't public officials be the ones to think about the long-term consequences of decisions like this? Soaring rock-salt prices are prompting commu
January 2, 2009

Shouldn't public officials be the ones to think about the long-term consequences of decisions like this?

Soaring rock-salt prices are prompting communities across the U.S. to try novel alternatives for clearing snow and ice, including molasses, garlic salt and a rum-production byproduct that smells like soy sauce.

Rock-salt prices normally surge in January and February, when communities running low on salt resort to buying the de-icing compound on the open market. But after last year's fierce winter taxed supplies, state and local government officials ordered tens of thousands of tons more salt ahead of this season. The high demand pushed salt prices to $60 to $120 per ton in many places, from last year's range of $30 to $50 a ton.

The jump in prices comes as communities are struggling with budgets tightened by shrinking tax revenue, thanks to the recession. The current bout of winter weather, which already has battered cities and states nationwide, threatens to strain budgets even more.

But wait, what do we have here? They're using "non-toxic" ash from coal-fired power plants as a mixture, the same ash we established as toxic just a few days ago. When the roads dry up and all those particulates get kicked up into the air, you don't suppose people might, oh, I don't know, inhale them?

Many towns are testing new methods to make their ice-fighting more efficient. Officials in Indiana and other states are equipping salt trucks with computers that, based on current air and ground temperatures and other metrics, tell drivers how much salt to drop and for how long.

This past summer, engineers in Ohio's Hamilton County sought bids to supply about 15,000 tons of salt. The county rejected the first set of bids, which were about 50% higher than the $40 a ton the county paid last year. Two more rounds resulted in quotes of as much as $157 a ton, which would have exceeded the county's entire $1.5 million budget for snow and ice removal, said Ted Hubbard, the chief deputy county engineer.

The county decided to try to make the 11,000 tons of salt it had on hand last for a winter of de-icing 1,500 miles of road lanes. To stretch it, Mr. Hubbard's department has been mixing its salt with gritty, non-toxic ash left over from coal-fired power plants.

"When the sun shines on it, it helps attract radiation, therefore it helps melt the snow," Mr. Hubbard said. "We're sort of experimenting." Mr. Hubbard said the ash mixture doesn't melt the snow as fast, but it does add traction to the roads.

"Sort of experimenting." Yeah, you could say that.

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