The temperature in Kent right now makes it hard to think about needing rock salt but it’s that time of year when we re-evaluate the last snow season and plan our orders for salt for the 2016-17 winter season.
If someone could promise that next winter would be as mild as last winter, we could end the discussion right now, but that prospect seems pretty unlikely so we’ll plan for the worst and hope to be pleasantly surprised.
The City typically usees between 5,000 tons and 6,000 tons of rock salt each year. Our storage shed has the capacity to hold about 5,000 tons so the challenge for us has been how much to order and when to order it.
In a perfect world our salt shed would be large enough to hold a full season’s worth of rock salt but unfortunately, depending on how much snow we get, we don’t have that luxury right now which means we usually have to rely on some amount of mid-winter shipment.
Mid-winter shipments are nerve-wrecking because we wait in line with all the other cities who also put in mid-winter salt orders — and frankly, by comparison our salt orders are relatively small so we end up towards the end of that line.
Two years ago the salt supply fell behind the demand and cities literally ran out of salt even though they had placed new orders months earlier. That’s always a risk which is why when we see our salt supply running low we will ration it until the next shipment arrives.
Given the precarious availability of mid-winter salt shipments, the cities around us are looking at expanding their individual salt storage capacity and even discussing the possibility of a “shared” regional salt dome that could serve to store enough “extra” salt so that none of us would have to worry about mid-winter shipments.
Regional storage is a great idea, the devil is in the details — particularly who pays to build it.
Thankfully, the 2015-16 winter season was one of the mildest on record and we ended the season with plenty of surplus salt. Now we’re trying to forecast how much to buy this summer to restock, and how much to commit to buying next winter assuming a “normal” winter snow season (whatever that is).
The light winter season in 2015-16 allowed us to save approximately $128,000 from our snow budget. With the bid prices for salt swinging wildly between $100/ton in 2014-15 and $30/ton in 2015-16, the prices heading into 2016-17 seem to be settling in around $50/ton.
Snow season brings a lot of sleepless nights, both in running plow operations all night long and in trying to forecast how much salt to buy in April, from whom, and at what price.