City: a little salt, please

By Thomas Wilson
With the Elizabethton City Council's blessing on Thursday night, the city of Elizabethton will buy a commodity that proved valuable and scarce last winter. The city plans to purchase a minimum of 600 tons of rock salt with an option to buy an additional 300 tons from a low bidder in preparation for the coming winter.
Winter pounded the upstate last year, exhausting the city's salt supply and forcing another $23,000 purchase before the season was over.
"Usually you can get by with 200 to 300 tons," said Gene Deloach, the city's director of purchasing.
The Morton Salt Company of Chicago submitted the lowest price among four bidders at $46.72 per ton. Elizabethton's maximum estimated expenditure is $42,048 if all 900 tons is required for use.
Rock salt prices have jumped considerably from last year. The city purchased 900 tons at $39.95 per ton from Central Salt, LLC, when the purchase was bid out in 2002.
While Deloach could only speculate as to the exact cause of the price increase, he indicated high gasoline prices and the heavy demand for salt could be contributing factors. "We have to live with it," he said. "The costs of diesel fuel for trucks to deliver the salt to us is a contributor to the price."
Elizabethton is part of a nine-member consortium including East Tennessee State University and the municipal governments of Knox County, Knoxville, Johnson City, Bristol, Tenn.; Jonesborough, Church Hill, and Mount Carmel that purchase rock salt in bulk. The city of Knoxville acts as a contracting agent for the consortium. Each entity must execute their own contract with the successful bidder in accordance with their purchasing policies.
The city of Johnson City plans to purchase 1,500 tons with the option to buy 1,500 additional tons, while Kingsport plans to buy 1,000 tons with a back up supply of 800 tons.
To combat snow-covered streets and highways, rock salt is spread on a road surface. The salt melts through the snow/ice, forming brine, breaking the snow's bond with the roadway. Vehicular traffic breaks through the surface, reducing the snow/ice to plowable slush, moving it to the side of roadways.
Heavy snowfall blanketed Northeast Tennessee at times last winter sending the city street department into overdrive to keep roadways passable. The department exhausted its 900-ton supply of salt by mid-January, forcing the city to purchase an additional 600 tons to finish out the season. The department ended up using over 1,000 tons of salt before warmer weather arrived.
Deloach said the city had been making bulk salt purchases as part of the consortium for a number of years.