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A pile of mixed sand and salt sits outside St. Paul Park's Public Works building. (Bulletin photo by Jon Avise)

City in a pinch when it comes to salt

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Woodbury, 55125
Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

The winter forecast in Newport? Slippery.

A shortage of road salt and the resulting price hike has forced Newport Public Works to purchase just half the tonnage this year it typically would, and that means less salt -- and more ice -- on the city's streets this winter.

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Heavier snow in many parts of the United States last winter meant heavier demand this year as public works operations across the country prepared again for snow to fly.

That surge in the salt market has meant a meteoric rise in prices -- Newport Public Works director Bruce Hanson said the city forked over $120 per ton this year to a Canadian salt supplier, up from $40 per ton of salt in 2007.

"I couldn't believe it," he said last week.

Because of the soaring prices and escalating demand, Newport was also able to buy only half of its normal supply -- 125 tons versus the typical 250 -- and that could lead to a very slippery situation.

"We've got a little left over from last year," Hanson said of Newport's salt supply, "but not much."

Newport's policy is already to plow only two inches or more of snow. So, the city will spread even less of its sand and salt mixture, and do it less often, in an effort to conserve.

Hanson admits it isn't a desirable solution. But when it comes down to it, he says, "What can we do?"

"We'll get icy spots," because of the shortage, he said. "Mid-block sanding is probably out, we'll probably just sand intersections."

Hanson said he'd work to get Newport on the state salt contract for next winter, a move that would guarantee the city's supply and could also save it money.

Both Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park are on the state bid and will have a full supply this winter. Plus, both cities will pay around $40 per ton for their rock salt, up just $5 over 2007.

"We're sitting pretty good," said St. Paul Park Public Works supervisor Lee Flandrich. "We have our (salt) locked in."

Cottage Grove Public Works director Les Burshten said Cottage Grove is all set to receive its roughly 2,400 tons of road salt. Despite the city's plan to use only salt on the roads by 2011 -- a switch that will save public works from the most laborious part of spring cleanup -- the city won't require more.

And even if Newport, in a pinch, needs more salt should it be an especially perilous winter, its fully stocked neighbors can't help, Hanson and Flandrich said.

Salt distributors sent out letters recently telling their clients if they're caught reselling excess salt to another entity they'll be removed from the state contract and billed in full. Essentially, you share, you're gone.

"Your heart goes out to them," Flandrich said. "It's a tough deal."

For Newport and its drivers alike.

Jon Avise can be reached at javise@swcbulletin.com.

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