Local cities seek salt solutions
De Soto officials are looking into a cooperative arrangement with area cities - including Tonganoxie and Basehor - in the hopes of shaking loose salt supplies for the winter driving season.
De Soto city street superintendent Ron Creason said initial inquiries from the city's usual salt suppliers weren't encouraging.
"They don't have any," he said. "The big highway departments have just swallowed it up. It just isn't available. They wouldn't even quote me a price. So I don't know what it would cost this year."
Learning that other smaller area cities were in the same boat, De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle suggested they group together in the hope their collective buying power would get the attention of suppliers.
The suggestion led to a planned meeting, scheduled for Aug. 12, of officials from De Soto, Tonganoxie, Basehor, Edwardsville, Bonner Springs and Edgerton. The goals were to identify supplies, needs, delivery schedules and costs., Guilfoyle said.
"Right now, it's a sellers' market as road and street departments rush to replenish supplies and mines rebuild stockpiles after the hardest winter in years," said Richard Hanneman, president of the Salt Institute, an Alexandria, Va., based trade association for the salt industry.
"The whole pipeline, if you will, was empty. So we started out having to refill that pipeline," he said.
As the industry attempted to fill that demand, a number of state road departments artificially inflated demand by placing large orders to ensure they wouldn't be in the same situation next winter, Hanneman said. Illinois ordered 400,000 tons more than the previous year and Iowa ordered 52 percent more, he said.
Another concern was the added cost or competition for barges shipping salt north from Louisiana mines, Hanneman said. Salt used to be an inexpensive return cargo for grain barges headed back from the Gulf, now many of those barges were destined to ethanol plants in the Midwest, while demand for steel and other products brought added competition for northbound barge space.
The salt industry produced 20 million tons of road deicing product last season, up from 10 million tons the year before, Hanneman said. There are complications with increasing production 100 percent that persist, such as finding enough experienced salt miners, he said.
All that created supply problems for those small cities standing in the back of the line behind the bigger customers.
Kim Quall, public affairs officer for the Kansas Department of Transportation, said KDOT was among those departments ordering early. All the agency's salt bunkers are full, she said.
On Monday, Mike Yanez, Tonganoxie city administrator, said the city had found a salt supplier, but the prices were much higher than previous years.
"We may jump on board if we anticipate a cost savings," he said about the plan. "We just need to see what everybody else is thinking."
- Reporter Estuardo Garcia contributed to this story