By Sue Botos
Road salt scarcity has been an issue during this relentless winter as communities scramble to come up with ways to stretch dwindling supplies. In Rocky River, service crews are peppering their salt with blast furnace slag to make it go farther.
According to safety-service Director Mary Kay Costello, the slag, a byproduct of iron and steel making, is relatively inexpensive at $10 a ton and a better alternative to sand, which she said was used during a harsh winter several years ago. “The sand was unattractive, absorbed moisture and clumped. The slag has fewer tendencies to clump,” she explained. The city has 200 tons of the material on hand.
Costello added that slag has a consistency somewhere between powder and small rocks, easily fitting through the openings in a screen. “Some people call it cinders,” she said.
During a committee session last week, Costello told City Council that usagewise, city salt consumption was on par with similar hard winters – but this year, delivery issues are responsible for shortages. “If we had gotten our order, we would be OK,” Costello stated. She said that the city had 1,200 tons left over from last year’s mild season. Had this winter’s entire 3,600 tons reserved through the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) cooperative with the Chicago-based Morton Salt Co. arrived, Costello said, “we would be right where we needed to be.” In the past, the city has purchased salt from Cleveland’s Cargill.
According to an online city update on Feb. 6, the city salt supply has at no time ever been depleted this winter. It stated that a delivery was expected that would fulfill the current order.
Council President Jim Moran added that the transportation problem, rather than supply, was causing a “very unique” situation. He said that Morton officials have told cities under contract that they could not pick up supplies themselves from local distributors, such as the one in Fairport Harbor. Several communities have been threatening legal action in the wake of the delivery snafus.
So far, Costello said, there have been no complaints by residents about the slag, and it seems to be making the salt last longer. However, what is being saved in salt is being spent on manpower. In a further effort to keep the roads safe, plows have been attempting to scrape down to the surface, using salt as little as possible. “We’re putting more people on around the clock to plow, and the costs are mounting,” Costello stated. “We’re in a ration mode,” she continued, adding that extra attention will be paid to the more than 30 sloped areas of the city.
While the snow and cold have been causing enough trouble, Costello said that a quick temperature rise will make matters worse, especially in the Yacht Club basin next to the Rocky River. After the first arctic blast of the year, Jan. 7 and 8, residents on South Island Drive had to be evacuated when large ice chunks made their way down the river during a brief warmup.
“We’re very nervous about any warming trend. We’ll keep an eye on the West Channel folks,” she said. Costello has spoken with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard about breaking up the river ice, but they reported that the river mouth is not deep enough for ice-cutting vessels. Costello said that other options are being explored, but none of those choices involve blasting the frozen mass. “No explosives can be used in the area,” she said, due to safety concerns.