From beet juice to bits of rock to selective spreading, local communities are getting creative to ration their diminished road salt supplies this winter.
With the price of road salt rising sharply — even doubling in some cases — local officials scaled back purchases and are hoping for a mild winter, while also doing what they can to make their supplies stretch as far as possible.
“We’re being very conservative with the spread of our salt,” Sandusky city manager Matt Kline said. “The one thing we can’t control is the weather, obviously.”
To keep roads ice-free, Sandusky has purchased thousands of gallons of Geomelt, a commercial mix of salt and beet juice that melts snow down to 20 degrees below zero.
Sandusky uses the substance to pre-treat roads before a storm to reduce the amount of salting needed during and after the storm.
Kline characterized the city’s experience with Geomelt as “so far, so good.”
“Once the storm hits, the salt seems to be reacting to it very well,” he said. “We haven’t had too many incidents on the overpass, which is our most dangerous spot.”
When spreading salt, Kline said, city crews prioritize the Milan Road overpass, which freezes easily, as well as the main routes to Firelands Regional Medical Center.
An additive more common than beet juice is tiny bits of rock, particularly the No. 9 grit.
“It doesn’t do anything as far as melting the ice; the only thing it does is add traction,” said Daryel Sternberg, Perkins Township highway superintendent.
Township crews use the salt-grit mixture in the western portion of the township, where the roads have berms rather than curbs and drains. The grit can cause drains to back up, Sternberg said.
Except during ice storms, Perkins salts only intersections, bridges, treacherous curbs and spots with stop signs.
Huron County has similar restrictions on where to spread salt, county engineer Joe Kovach said. He also has adopted a mixture of two scoops of No. 9 grit to one scoop of salt.
Ottawa County, which is working with 73 percent of the salt it requested for the winter, plans to experiment with different ratios of salt to grit, along with a liquid treatment to decrease the effective temperature.
“It could go all the way to straight salt if it’s an ice storm-type situation,” county engineer David Brunkhorst said.
Brunkhorst said communities need to watch their salt use for minor storms, like the ones so far this winter, in case March and April bring unexpected ice storms.