Latest Kentucky snowstorm exhausts salt supplies in many counties

jwarren@herald-leader.com,Tom EblenMarch 4, 2014 

Kentucky Salt Supply

Worker with the Kentucky Department of Transportation load trucks with salt Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, at the Mega Caverns in Louisville, Ky. Kentucky's salt supply of 60,000 tons is stored underground at the Mega Caverns, and due to the harsh winter, the salt supply is down to less than 25,000 tons. Photo by Timothy D. Easley

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With Estill County's salt supplies exhausted, about all county roads crews could do during Monday morning's snowstorm was to keep plowing the roads.

But then one of their snowplows caught fire.

It's been that kind of winter, Estill Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor said.

Across Central Kentucky — and other parts of the state — several county and municipal road supervisors have exhausted their salt supplies, while many others are struggling to stretch out the meager amounts of salt they have left. All are hoping to wait out a winter that won't seem to quit.

Ryan Watts, a spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said state highway crews are in "conservation mode," putting down less salt per mile of roadway than usual. But conserving salt is tough when snowstorms keep coming.

Watts said the state had about 100,000 tons of salt before Monday's storm. He said the state had an estimated 97,000 tons left Tuesday afternoon, although the actual amount probably was less than that. The total was changing because workers were applying salt in some places, he said.

"We should have more accurate numbers tomorrow," Watts said.

Estill County used up the last of its road salt late last month, and Wallace said he has been unable to find out when the county might get more.

"I talked with the governor's office Monday and Tuesday, and they're in almost the same shape we are," he said.

Wallace said Estill County road crews have been putting down crushed rock as an alternative to salt. It doesn't melt ice, but it does give some traction, he said.

"Mostly, we've been plowing as hard as we can," Wallace said.

The snowplow that caught fire during Monday's seven-inch snowfall in Estill County was "totally shot," but its driver wasn't hurt, he said.

Crews started working county roads Sunday night and haven't stopped since, he said. Wallace pitched in himself to help answer phones.

"The problem isn't just salt," he said. "It's the wear and tear on equipment. We've had to buy tires; we've had breakdowns; the equipment just isn't used to this. Our people are getting tired, too."

Scott County road foreman J.R. Brandenburg estimated that he has about 300 tons of salt left after more than 400 tons were used to deal with Monday's storm.

"It's not a good supply; this last storm really took a lot," Brandenburg said Tuesday. "We have more on order. But a lot of us aren't having much luck getting orders filled."

Jessamine County road foreman Coleman Tudor said he has only about two trucks full of salt, and he's hanging onto them for "emergencies."

"We don't have enough to do what we really need to do," he said.

As an alternative, Jessamine County crews have been spreading "number nine rock," a crushed stone, to provide traction. It's what road departments did years ago, before they started using salt, Tudor said.

The county has contacted suppliers, but it's unclear when more salt might arrive.

"And we aren't the only ones," Tudor said.

The city of Wilmore used up the last of its salt during Monday morning's storm, Utilities and Public Works director David Carlstedt said. Wilmore first ran out about a month ago, but the city got a little extra salt from Jessamine County and an outside supplier. Now that's gone.

"We've ordered two more truckloads and should get them this week or next week," Carlstedt said Tuesday. "We don't know what the price will be. But it could be really premium."

Meanwhile, Carlstedt said he's hoping for warm weather and looking to some local experts for advice.

"We have six or eight farmers who gather at our local deli every morning, ... and I get more reliable information from them than anybody," he said.

What do the farmers predict?

"They don't think we're done yet," Carlstedt said. "They think there's one more storm coming."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @hlpublicsafety.

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