WNY municipalities paying more for rock salt this year

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- While drivers may hope it's some time before rock salt is needed on local roadways, local highway crews are already preparing.

They need to order their road salt before the season starts, and this year, that's more challenging because the price of rock salt has gone up significantly.

"We anticipated a mild winter, similar to what happened the previous year. We didn't get it," said Erie County Public Works Commissioner John Loffredo, reflecting on last year's unexpectedly harsh winter.

Erie Country had ordered 17,000 tons of it last year and ended up needing and using double that amount.

As a result, this year, they've ordered 25,000 and budgeted an extra million dollars to account for extra need and the fact that rock salt prices have skyrocketed.

"Last year it was around the $40 mark per ton, this year it's about $49 per ton," Loffredo said.

In Hamburg for example, rock salt is costing the town 25 percent or more than it did last year.

Erie County public works is paying about 23 percent more, and the town of Concord sees a 21 percent increase.

In order for municipalities to afford more salt and the higher price of salt, that means having to move finances around.

"We worked on our budget real hard this year to provide additional funding," said Town of Concord Highway Supervisor Dennis Dains.

In Concord, notorious for more snow, finding a way to afford it is not a choice.

"About the last third of winter was pretty severe out here in the Southern Tier. Public safety is number one, and my town is not going to cut back on salt," Dains said.

It's a different story in Hamburg, though. Highway Supervisor Tom Best says what he has in storage now is good for about 10 days. If he ends up needing more than that this season, he'll have to ask the town board for emergency funds.

As for the average consumer, buying a bag for your driveway shouldn't break the bank.

"We don't see an increase in prices this year for rock salt," said Doug Wasiura, a spokesperson for Valu Home Centers. Retailers like Valu negotiate prices with suppliers well in advance and order a set amount for the season. If that runs out, that's it. Extra salt goes to municipalities first for public safety before it goes into stores.

"Buy your rock salt early," he suggested. "Really, when it comes to rock salt mining, whatever they mine for the year is really what we can get."

For now, we wait and hope Western New York is ready.

"We don't want it, we don't like it, we wish it doesn't come, but we're prepared," Loffredo said.


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