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Road crews are gearing up for winter, and Road Supervisor Carl Henry said a major part of that preparation includes having enough road salt on hand.
The problem is, the price of salt has nearly tripled since last winter, Henry told fiscal court members Tuesday. He advised them to accept a bid from Morton's Salt for $120 per ton, because he had checked out prices from other companies, and Morton's was the lowest.
"We're not going to get it any cheaper," he said.
Road salt prices the previous winter topped out at about $48 per ton.
The Shelby County Fiscal Court voted to accept Morton's bid and to order 580 tons of road salt. Henry said that it takes an average of about 1,000 tons of salt to get through the winter, but that he already some salt left over from last year.
Why are salt prices so high this year?
"It's just simple supply and demand," Henry said. "Everybody-not just us, but the whole nation-used too much salt last year, so this year it's in short supply. The price is a lot higher. It could be that this year, we won't have to use much salt, so next year, the cost will be back down again."
But Henry said the county must be prepared for a harsh winter whether it happens that way or not.
One thing that will help in preserving the county's salt supply is the use of brine and "beet juice," Henry said.
Brine can be applied to roads rather than salt under certain weather conditions, Henry said. Brine is made by mixing water and salt together, using a ratio of 2,200 gallons of salt to 9,000 gallons of water. This is just as effective as salt in certain weather conditions, and less salt is used. Also, brine can be applied to roadways first, then a layer of salt can be put down.
However, there is a science in knowing when to use just brine or just salt, or salt and brine together, Shelby County Judge Executive Rob Rothenburger said.
"It takes a lot of ingenuity by our road department," he said. "We have to constantly monitor the weather, and we do that by using weather radar. We monitor surface temperature, humidity, wind chill, and what's more, those levels may vary in different parts of the county. I remember in the ice storm, it was raining in one part of the county, snowing in another and ice was coming down someplace else. It takes a lot of expertise, good equipment and experienced crews, and we have all that here."
Gayle Wiley of the road department said that crews are ready to go, as are all 10 trucks.
"We do pretty good," he said. "We know the roads and where problem areas are."
Henry, with more 20 years experience in that area, plans to use a new product on the market this year-beet juice. This organic substance will serve as a binding agent when mixed with brine and will increase the effectiveness of brine in even the most severe weather.
"This product couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time," Rothenburger said.
Brine alone is not effective below 19 degrees Fahrenheit, but the addition of beet juice is supposed to reduce the freezing point of brine by several more degrees, which will improve road conditions during ice and snow. Henry is optimistic about the new product.
"Beet juice enables the salt to work faster, it allows for quicker removal and is not corrosive," he said.
He compares it to calcium chloride, which is often added to salt but is highly corrosive, and destroys roads and both maintenance vehicles as well as the public's vehicles.
"Beet juice is less expensive than calcium chloride, but just as effective," Henry said.
Rothenburger said using beet juice should save the county money over time.
"The mixture of salt brine and beet juice has been found to improve the effectiveness of a roadway pre-treatment solution, thus in the long run saving money on traditional salting operations," he said.
Other items approved on Oct. 21
Bid of $120.41 per ton for road salt
Second reading to establish cemetery board
Allocated $500 for annual Christmas parade
Allocated $2,100 for Light up Shelbyville
Changed Nov. 4 Fiscal Court meeting to Nov 3 at 7 p.m.