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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Between the rock (salt) and a hard spot


This is a little story of a little entity getting by.  The governor of our state does not believe in little entities.  He believes in mergers, consolidations, bigger is better.  He used to work on Wall Street, Lehman Brothers, to be exact.  He has nothing to do with this story, but may he be a one term governor, and not because of bankruptcy.

Little entities do understand how big jobs are done. We cooperate with the entities around us. We lend and borrow equipment and expertise. Our shops keep equipment in top notch repair. 

My fax machine hummed this summer with schematics for the hydraulics of the back hoe.  The road super showed me one part that cost $495.  He was incensed.  I pointed it probably was tempered metal and had four beautiful welds.  I believe the whole job came in at under a thousand in parts, and our old back hoe is back in business.  A new back hoe?  A hundred grand, or more.  We’re still saving up for it.

Bringing us right up to the current topic.  Road salt. How do we get the same price as the great big cities around us? We belong to their consortium. How do we meet the minimum? By buying the salt for the village, which has no salt storage facility.  It is extremely convenient for them, as our salt barn is smack in the middle of their village.

Road salt remains as contentious a product as in Roman times. There are only two suppliers in Ohio, Morton and Cargill.  They both mine under Lake Erie, Morton from the Michigan side and Cargill from the Ohio side, out in eastern Lake County.  The roads are crunchy white out there year round, from the salt trucks coming out of the mine.

Do they collude?  Of course.  Do they get in trouble?  Once in a while. In the meantime, taxpayers pay for the salt on their roads, and dearly.  The price has more than doubled in my ten years of paying for it.  The consortium's supplier has always been Cargill, but with only two players in the game, and roads needing cleared and salted in winter, it just seems obvious that the suppliers, are maximizing profits.  Their job, I suppose.

Several years ago fuel surcharges were added. The price of fuel fell, the consortium complained, the charges dropped.  The last two winters have been mild. The township has not purchased the amount of salt we committed to.  No one has.  Cargill whipped out a storage charge of three dollars a ton.  That set the township back almost a thousand dollars.

The township nearly met the commitment last year, plus several hundred tons arrears from the previous contract, but fell one hundred twenty tons short.  The road super and I looked at each other and shrugged. Surely they wouldn’t nick us too badly for that.  We also conspired a bit on our own.  The mine is always there, full of salt.  We would only commit to the minimum tonnage this year, 620 tons, down from our usual 690.

Well, not exactly, but it’s closed.

Last week Cargill called.  Order that hundred and twenty tons now or we would receive an invoice for storage.  Five dollars a ton now.

We have never bought salt the first week of September! But six hundred dollars goes a long way in the township.



 The salt barn two short weeks ago,
when I also discovered pumpkins in the back fill dump.


Salt trucks are a'coming;
keep that loader moving.


24 comments:

  1. Hari Om
    Crikey. All as I can say is I hope there is a winter worth the having to use up the stock and make it worth the paying for... but that's not a kind thought at all really. Tsk.

    YAM &*{

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    Replies
    1. You're looking at about two hundred tons. It takes close to seven to get through a winter here.

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  2. I wish you could help me with my budget!

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  3. I am surrounded by a salty ocean, but have no need for salt on my road. Thank goodness.

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  4. Haven't we already had this story/these pictures, Joanne? (I should talk).

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    Replies
    1. I'd think you would be more interested in the perfidy of monopolists than seeing a picture again.

      Have I mentioned the governor too often?

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    2. You may have done, but my memory's playing tricks on me.

      It's the perfidy of young women that plays on my mind more than monogamists.

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  5. Sharp practice....and no sense of any responsibility towards communities.

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  6. You're not the only ones thrown under Cargill's wheels. They pretty much do what they want. Glad you had a place to stash that salt so you could at least avoid the extra charge.

    The highway department uses cinders from the volcanic geology around here to help with ice on the road. It doesn't rot cars underneath like salt but it sandblasts the exterior and chips the windows. If there were only a way to get the snow not to fall on the roads.

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    Replies
    1. When salt has run low the road guys supplement with "grits." I've never inquired into the nature of grits, but it leads to the chip and nick complaints you cite.

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  7. Thinking about road salt already.....sigh.

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  8. Road salt is a completely alien concept to me - but the greed of single suppliers? Sadly all too familiar.

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  9. Sydney built a desalination plant a few years back, we were in drought but then we had floods so as far as I know we have never used it but we will be in drought again so we should use it. Does sea salt work we should have plenty in the future.
    Merle.........

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    Replies
    1. Sea salt is an expensive road salt option for the interior of the country. A bad winter several years ago and the salt producers ran out. Some municipalities trucked in sea salt. The township used grits.

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  10. North of the border salt also comes from near Lake Erie. I read that you started salt mines on your side of the lake and we figured out there must also be some on our side, they dug test wells and Bingo.

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  11. Maybe your winter will be a mild one? Hope?

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  12. Road salt and the storage for it aren't something we need to think about down here. We rarely get ice on our roads, maybe an occasional icy spot on frosty nights is all.
    I hope your winter is mild enough that you don't need to use all that salt and have enough for next year too.

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  13. There was always a worry in Chicago about having enough salt for the season. We usually had such cold and snowy winters. I'm hoping your salt holds out.

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  14. I've never thought about where the salt came from and the need to store it...very interesting! Hope you have a mild winter.

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  15. I never knew they mined salt under the lake. Learn something new every day!

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  16. You load sixteen tons, what do you get
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul to the company store

    I don't know what you get with 120 tons. A broken front loader?

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  17. I'm terrible. I feel about salt on my streets the same way that I feel about my car. I just want it to work. I don't want to know that specifics....

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  18. I often see salt stores here, they are cone shaped and weird. I have never wondered where the salt comes from or who pays for it. The Highways Agency, I guess. ?? I think you organise it completely differently in the US.

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  19. Very, VERY familiar with salt here in Maritime Canada!

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