While most residents of Forest Park are still enjoying the summer sun, the village’s public works department is already getting ready for winter weather. The village is trying to prepare for the icy roads to come by stocking up on road salt, but short supplies and high prices are creating difficulties.
The intensity of last winter has made many officials wary of this year’s weather, and several communities are struggling to afford all the salt they need. Forest Park, for example, usually buys about 1,500 tons of salt. Early last year, the price tag was $44 a ton. When supplies started running low, the price rocketed to $150 a ton, said John Doss, assistant director of public works.
This year, Forest Park has about 100 tons left in storage and 400 tons bought independently, at $101 a ton. But what about the several thousand tons of salt still needed?
As Forest Park, one of about 600 communities that buy road salt through the state, has not yet been accepted for a bid, the price for this year is not definite. But it is sure to be high. That means that many communities, Forest Park included, will be buying less salt than usual. So how will those cities survive the winter? With planning and conservation, much like last year when supplies started running out.
“We did … a lot more plowing, a lot less salting, and we’ll probably do the same this year,” said Doss.
States such as Michigan and Wisconsin are reportedly only paying between $40 and $50 for each ton of salt. So why the high prices for Illinois communities?
Richard Hanneman, president of the Salt Institute, a global association of salt companies, says Illinois is seeing higher prices than other states because it was late in asking for salt bids. Because of the severity of last winter, salt reserves are depleted, he said. So municipalities all over are asking for larger amounts of salt for this winter. Illinois upped the amount of salt it needed by 34 percent from last winter to 421,000 tons.
Suppliers have plenty of salt, but it’s a question of delivering it to the right places at the right time. That’s why salt companies asked states to make bids early. But by the time Illinois made its request for a larger-than-usual amount, suppliers were becoming more selective.
“The State of Illinois was just later in the year in their bidding, and by that point the supply was spoken for,” Hanneman said. Wisconsin and Minnesota did their bidding in March and April while Illinois came in later, he said.
The rising prices are not expected to continue, however. Next winter, Hanneman expects the salt market to return to normal, with prices dipping by possibly one third to one half of what they are.
Wednesday Journal reporter Marty Stempniak contributed to this report.