Sandusky has found a way to beet high salt prices.
City plows will use a mixture of beet juice and salt brine on snowy roads this winter as a way to compensate for the skyrocketing costs of salt, city manager Matt Kline said.
The city bought the popular mineral at $69 per ton this year, up from $34 a ton last year, so Sandusky will have less than half the amount of salt available than in the winter of 2007.
"We learned that beet juice has a property in it that does the same thing as salt brine," Kline said. "It will make our brine stretch a little further."
Sandusky will use a commercial product called Geomelt, which uses the beet juice that's left after the sugar has been extracted from sugar beets. Geomelt is composed of 5 percent beet juice, 10 percent calcium chloride and 85 percent salt.
The mixture won't stain or stick, which is a common complaint about beets.
According to experts, beet juice actually works better than salt brine in some instances, because beet juice works even in the coldest temperatures.
"Rock salt alone stops melting snow at about 18 degrees; Geomelt goes to 20 below," said Scott Varner, a spokesman from the Ohio Department of Transportation.
At least 11 Ohio counties experimented with Geomelt last year, mostly in Southern Ohio, where salt prices are as high as $155 per ton in 2008 and are perennially higher than in Northern Ohio.
Kline said even with the mixture, the city still will not be able to treat every road after every snowfall.
"We're trying to get to the problem as best as we can," he said. "We'll do the main intersections and the roads to the hospital. (But) there will be times when there will be snow on the ground and we won't be able to get to it. It's going to be a hard winter."