Local and state road crews keep watchful eye on salt supplies

jwarren@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2014 

Rising temperatures through the weekend will be welcomed by state, county and municipal road departments, which have kept a watchful eye on their salt supplies.

County road departments in Fayette and surrounding counties reported fairly good supplies as of Tuesday. Not so with some counties southeast of Lexington, including Estill.

"We practically have no salt," Estill Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor said. The county had a supply of between 6 and 8 tons as of Tuesday.

"We're just hanging on to that so that if we had a tremendous storm, we'd use it to get ambulances in and out and reach nursing homes, places were we would desperately have to have it for public safety," Taylor said.

Owsley County Road Foreman Randall Mays said the county "probably has five or six tons" of salt left.

"One good snow would probably use that up," he said Wednesday. "We're about out."

The state had 147,000 tons on hand Tuesday, said Lisa Tolliver, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. So far, the state has used more than 317,000 tons this winter. In a typical year, state crews use 200,000 to 250,000 tons.

"If this were a normal winter, at this time, we'd be fine with the amount of salt we have on hand," Tolliver said. "But you never know because we've had so many snow and ice events this winter; you don't know whether that's going to continue through the rest of the winter. We're trying to play it safe and make sure we still have salt on hand."

Below-freezing temperatures have complicated matters by keeping ice on the roads in many areas. Road salt doesn't melt ice as well when temperatures dip below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. And when the ice does melt, it tends to freeze back overnight, road officials say.

In Lexington, the Urban County Council approved an additional $300,000 for more salt on Tuesday. The city has spent nearly $540,000 on salt, bringing the total to more than $935,494. The city has ordered 15,000 tons of salt so far, the most it has ever had to order. It currently has more than 6,000 tons of salt on hand, which could last for the next five or six snow events, depending on the size of the storm.

Meanwhile, officials in Bourbon, Scott, Madison and Woodford counties reported that they should have sufficient supplies now to last them through five or six more events.

Madison County Judge-Executive Kent Clark said his county is in "excellent" condition with its salt supply.

"We've got over 3,000 tons on hand as we speak," Clark said Tuesday. "We're in excellent condition for anything that comes the rest of the winter."

Salt-strapped counties like Estill and Owsley are trying to make do by spreading finely crushed rock on their roads. It doesn't melt the ice, but does improve traction somewhat, road foremen say.

Meanwhile, they're just hoping for warmer weather.

"Whatever the good Lord gives us, that's what we will have to take," Martin County road foreman Joe Maynard said.

Herald-Leader staff writers Beth Musgrave and Greg Kocher contributed information to this story. Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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