February 28, 2008


Salt shortage seen on area roads

Widespread need leaves suppliers scrambling to fulfill increased number of orders.

Plow Truck

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
A Cortland County truck travels north Wednesday on Page Green Road in Virgil plowing and treating the roadway with a mixture of sand and salt. State and local highway departments are dealing with a shortage in the salt supply.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Highway departments locally and across the state are struggling with demand for road salt outstripping its supply.
“Right now, the need for road salt is outpacing the ability of the mines to produce,” Cortland County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers said at a county Traffic Safety Board Wednesday afternoon. “We had an issue with it last year — it’s becoming more frequent.”
A relatively hard winter has increased demand and production shortfalls could be another factor, said city Department of Public Works Superintendent Chris Bistocchi.
“I’ve heard that they have upped their shipments to the Midwest, which has had a lot of bad weather, and I’ve heard that they’re not pulling it out of the ground fast enough,” Bistocchi said.
The city is doing its best to stretch out dwindling reserves in the face of the shortage.
“We’re only using it at the college hill section and the high school hill section, and we’re just salting intersections,” Bistocchi said this morning.
The city had ordered 500 tons of salt about two weeks ago and he has yet to “see a grain of it,” Bistocchi said. The city usually uses about 3,500 tons of salt each year, and goes through between 200 and 250 tons of salt per storm.
With only 200 tons on hand and a delivery promised by Friday, Bistocchi said he can make do until more salt arrives — but he has cut in half the amount of salt used during storms.
Cortland County usually purchases 14,500 tons of road salt each year and has a storage capacity of 4,500 tons, Chambers said.
Because the salt mines — especially the Cargill mine in Lansing — have begun rationing deliveries to municipalities, Chambers said the county has had to switch to a mixture of sand, salt and calcium chloride, another melting agent.
“Right now I have 2,000 tons on an order that hasn’t been delivered, and we’ve used up the majority of our salt,” Chambers said after the meeting. “We’re down to about a third of what we need.”
There has been a tremendous demand for road salt and other de-icing products, said Cargill spokesman Mark Klein, adding that an official of the Lansing mine told him this is the worst he has seen it in 10 years.
The Lansing mine is operating around the clock, six days a week to fill orders, compared with the usual schedule at this time of year of two eight-hour work shifts, five days a week, he said.
Klein attributed the increased demand to wintry weather across the country.
The company usually fills most of a municipality’s requested order early in the winter and provides additional deliveries later, but early season heavy snowfall in parts of the country made that difficult, Klein said.
Chambers said Wednesday that he believes he has enough salt to get by until the next delivery.
Road salt helps clear the roads by creating a brine with a lower freezing point than untreated ice and snow. Chambers said more municipalities are moving away from sand, which doesn’t melt snow and ice but provides traction, and this might explain some of the increased demand that has led to the shortage.
“It’s a little less effective, definitely,” Chambers said. “We’ll end up with hard packed snow instead of clear roads.”
This can cost a municipality more money because plows will have to make more trips to clear snow and ice off of roads that salt should have already cleared.
Cortland County and the city of Cortland, like most other municipalities, purchase salt through the state Office of General Services, which contracts with owners of salt mines.
Superintendents in many counties want to ask the state to strengthen its contracts with suppliers next year to help prevent shortfalls, Chambers said.
OGS spokesman Brad Maione said that in 2006-07, the last year information is available from, the OGS purchased 2.5 million tons of salt at a cost of about $91 million. Much of that goes to the state Department of Transportation.
“We are working with our vendors and our customers to make sure that they have product on hand for the weather,” Maione said Wednesday afternoon. “Sometimes, there are supply and demand issues and we have to work through them.”




Cortland High’s Zhang clinches bee

Living and Leisure Editor

Ruohan “Hannah” Zhang said she grappled with some of the simple words, like “accommodate,” at the 44th Annual Cortland Youth Bureau Spelling Bee.
The seventh grader said that words with double letters can really trip her up. But that didn’t happen at Wednesday’s countywide spelling bee, where Hannah out spelled the seven other students who had advanced from Cortland area schools to win the first place title.
The annual event is co-sponsored by the Cortland Youth Bureau and First Niagara Bank.
Scott McLaughlin and Ian Heath of Homer Junior High, Hannah Zhang, Vinnie Bellardini, Brian Hughes of Cortland Junior High, Jordan Little of McGraw Central, Christopher Hall of Cincinnatus Central and Maddie Tucker of McGraw Central, all advanced to the finals and were vying for the first place prize of a $1,000 savings bond or a laptop computer.
The students sat side by side on the stage at the Cortland High auditorium, facing out on the entire junior high body at the Cortland High auditorium.
“It’s nerve wracking,” said Maddie, an eighth grader, who placed third place in the competition. “I just wanted to do my best. I didn’t even expect to get this far.”
The first round knocked out three contestants: Scott with the word, “peninsula,” Brian with the spelling of “dilapidated” and Jordan with “eligible.” Ian’s word, “porpoise,” did him in when he misspelled the tricky word in round two. Chris was eliminated with the word, “barricade.” By round three, the competition was down to Hannah, Vinnie and Maddie. But Maddie misstepped on the word, “initiate.”
“I have problems with the double lettering and that’s how I messed up.” She spelled initiate with two n’s.
“My English teacher and I studied after school. We looked at words and the origins of words from different languages,” she said of her preparation. “It was way better than I thought I was going to do.”
Maddie won a $100 Savings Bond from First Niagara Bank.
Vinnie said his dad, Michael, won the first annual Cortland Youth Bureau spelling bee when it was held 44 years ago.
“I thought that was pretty cool.”
The elder Bellardini won the competition on the word, “vinegar,” said John McNerney, Cortland Youth Bureau director.
Vinnie and Hannah faced off for the title in round four. But the word “lieutenant” tripped Vinnie up and Hannah had to spell it correctly. After she did, she then had to spell the next word correctly to get the title. She did, with “quarantine.”
“I wanted to get higher. I wanted the laptop,” Vinnie said.
First place contestants were able to choose from a lap top computer or a $1,000 Savings Bond from First Niagara Bank. “I thought second was pretty good. I still went a long way.”
Vinnie won a $250 Savings Bond for his effort.
Hannah said she’ll go for the laptop, not wanting to wait until she is 18 to access the $1,000 savings bond first prize. 




Traffic safety panel looks at Church St. truck traffic

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Traffic Safety Board discussed the impact of truck traffic on the southernmost section of Church Street Wednesday, but decided there was little to be done unless the city of Cortland changes its ordinances.
Cortland County Legislator Kathryn Wilcox (R-5th Ward) said residents are upset with the volume of tractor-trailers on the road, which is divided into narrow driving lanes by a grassy median.
Wilcox said the trucks often drive up onto the median as they turn onto the street and sometimes become stuck behind parked cars, honking their horns until the car is moved.
The trucks are heading to Marietta Corp. on Huntington Street to deliver their product, which Deputy Police Chief Frank Catalano said is in line with the city’s ordinance.
Although the sign at the entrance to south Church Street prohibits all truck traffic outside of local deliveries, Marietta constitutes a local delivery.
Wilcox wondered if the intent of the ordinance was to prohibit 18-wheelers and allow smaller delivery trucks, but Catalano said the language is not that specific and the tractor-trailers are entitled to deliver their product.
Pendleton Street to the east and south Main Street to the west are both truck routes and feed onto Huntington Street, and are wider and more able to accommodate large truck traffic, the board agreed.
But moving the trucks off Church Street could increase the traffic passing by Randall Elementary School on Huntington Street on its way to Pendleton Street.