By Sue Botos
Although this winter seems to keep hanging on, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is looking to the 2014-2015 season to avoid a repeat of this year’s salt supply meltdown.
At last week’s legislative session, City Council introduced an ordinance calling for the purchase of 4,000 tons of salt under ODOT’s cooperative purchasing agreement. Council members feel the April 8 deadline for submission of tonnage requirements, as specified in a letter from ODOT lead procurement coordinator Austin Price, leaves little time for discussion of the matter. A special meeting prior to the April 7 committee session is expected to be held for a vote on the emergency measure. Council will not meet on March 31, the fifth Monday of the month.
“We’re feeling a bit uncomfortable,” Mayor Pam Bobst said. She added, later in the meeting, “It’s a little frustrating that they sent this out on March 12 and want it back by April 8.” However, she acknowledged that the early start was necessary for ODOT to secure the best bids. Communities in the purchasing group were inconvenienced and angered this year by ODOT provider Morton Salt and the delays of promised deliveries.
In addition, the ODOT agreement is calling for participants to purchase 90 percent of the salt ordered. In the past, only 80 percent was required to be paid for. A purchase price per ton will be named after a supplier is chosen through the bidding process, scheduled for the end of May.
ODOT also is offering a “summer fill up contract,” which will be bid in mid-April. This gives communities and other organizations the chance to stock up supplies between May and October. According to the ODOT letter, municipalities will not be required to purchase 100 percent of the ordered tonnage if the vendor fails to deliver it during the specified time. If there is not a large demand for the summer program, communities may have the opportunity to increase their winter salt requests. As of now, city officials do not plan on summer participation.
Other avenues are also being considered as salt supply insurance. Bobst mentioned that the Westshore Council of Governments (Rocky River, Bay Village, Fairview Park, Westlake and North Olmsted) is exploring bidding for a secondary source, which would ensure each city backup salt.
Safety service Director Mary Kay Costello said this process could open the door for lesser-known suppliers. “There are some new players that could be pulled into the arena,” she stated. Costello also noted that the 3,750 tons of melter applied to city streets was not a record, thanks to the mixing of salt with blast furnace slag, which stretched the supply. She said over 5,000 tons were used during the harsh winter of 2010.
“We’re well-poised with our order,” said Costello, who added that the city is weighing the options of purchasing the 90 percent of the order from ODOT, plus utilizing a secondary source, or getting the entire 4,000 tons from ODOT and again mixing in the slag.
Bobst noted that unusual circumstances, especially unheard-of snowfall in the southern part of the country, added up to this year’s salt shortage. “The weather caused great demand. If we’re paying $29 a ton and someone else is paying $100 a ton, that could be part of the equation.”