PORTLAND, Maine — As snow season approaches, municipalities in Maine are feeling the pinch of higher road salt prices that could lead to cuts in the amount of salt that plow crews spread on local streets this winter.
Higher shipping costs and demand are blamed for the higher prices, which now range from $68 to $72 a ton. The state and most towns paid between $50 and $58 a ton last year.
Cumberland, which uses 1,100 tons in an average winter, had budgeted $55 a ton after paying $52 last year. But the price quickly climbed to $68, or $14,300 more than the town had budgeted, Town Manager William Shane said.
“Right off the bat, we’re in the red,” Shane said.
Towns and cities are looking at ways to reduce their use of salt.
As it trains its plow drivers to conserve salt, Westbrook is looking to salt main roads but cut back on secondary routes, said Thomas Eldridge, director of public services.
In Portland, crews will lay down salt on roads at the beginning of a storm, to keep a packed layer from forming, said Steve Earley, operations manager at the city’s Department of Public Services. Plow trucks will salt intersections and hilly sections of road during a storm, he said, and then re-salt roads after the storm.
State highway officials, however, say their options are limited.
“You can’t compromise the safety of the roads in the winter, so you have to find other things that can give,” said Brian Burne, highway maintenance engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation, which goes through 110,000 tons of salt a year.
The Maine Turnpike Authority went through 27,000 tons last year, well above the 15,000 ton average, and the rise in salt prices is one of a number of factors that led to the agency’s decision to increase tolls by 23 percent, spokesman Dan Paradee said.
“It’s safe to say that over the years there have been a lot of changes in the way we do use salt. It’s much more scientific now, as far as the amount of salt we’re putting on the road,” he said. “At the same time, we’re the Maine Turnpike here we’re the major artery in and out of the state of Maine. I don’t think we’ll be cutting corners.”