Iowa City and DOT officials stocked up on salt for winter

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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While the rest of Iowa City is trying to deal with the summer heat, Iowa City officials and the Iowa Department of Transportation are preparing for winter.

Bud Stockman, the Iowa City streets superintendent, said the city is purchasing road salt after the contracts came out this month.

"We are stocking," he said. "I have a bid through the DOT for so many tons of salt that I will use all winter long. This year, it's 2,000 tons."

Stockman said he usually buys roughly 3,000 tons yearly, but last year's unusually warm winter left 1,000 tons unused.

Officials at the University of Iowa Building & Landscape Services were not available for comment Wednesday, but supervisor Shawn Fitzpatrick said he is "99 percent sure" the department has not yet purchased salt for this winter.

Stockman said the department is not preparing in any other way for winter as of now but is catching up on last year's damages.

"We are fixing streets from damage done during the winter last year, from freezing and thawing, and curbs broken off from equipment hitting them," he said.

Robert Younie, a state DOT maintenance engineer, said the weighted-average salt price is less expensive than last winter.

"Vendors have salt that they need to move that didn't get sold last year," he said. "Salt doesn't make any money sitting around."

The weighted-average price accounts for product and transportation costs, and it could change along with the price of fuel.

Younie said he expects to pay $67.91 average per ton of salt this year. The price will increase as you move away from the river, he said.

Last year, the weighted-average was $69.97.

"It saves us a little bit of money this year," Younie said.

The salt price also decreased because two Nebraska vendors entered the bid this year for the first time. Blackstrap Inc. and Nebraska Salt and Grain are in this winter's bid pool.

Road salt for the state normally comes from the Gulf of Mexico via New Orleans and Kansas. Salt travels on barges up the Mississippi River to be transported across the western half of the state, and travels by truck or rail from Kansas to the eastern half, Younie said.

"It's all a competitive bidding system," he said. "Actually, the salt business is very competitive."

Iowa DOT has 231,400 tons of salt stored under roof from last year, Younie said. This will be used to plow roughly 8,885 miles of roads statewide, or roughly 25,000 lane miles.

UI Facility Management officials began using ProMelt, a salt and beet juice deicing mixture, last winter, The Daily Iowan has previously reported.

UI officials said they found the mixture to be cost- and environmentally effective, but Younie said state DOT officials tested similar mixtures negatively.

"Our testing finds magnesium chloride in beet juice," he said. "And while it might help to melt, our experience is it is harmful to roads."

The department began beet juice testing approximately 10 years ago but still finds the mixture not cost-effective.

Sodium chloride remains the most cost-effective product, Younie said.

"We know the costs of damage from salt, and we can live with them with the cost of salt [factored in]," he said.

While the state DOT does not have any new products evaluated this year, Younie said officialos are always looking for new mixtures.

"We are always willing to try something new," he said. "We want to evaluate it and understand its value to us."

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