Snow, ice costs top $2 million in Baltimore County

February 19, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

This has been the most expensive winter for Baltimore County government in at least a decade, officials say, and it isn't over yet.

The county has spent nearly $2.3 million this winter for overtime and materials in its battle against ice and snow. That's the highest figure since the the county started recording winter weather expenditures in 1984. The runner-up was the winter of 1988, when snow removal operations came to $1.9 million for the whole season.

The county has struggled -- not always successfully -- to keep up its supply of road salt. At one point, officials said, they were forced to hint at legal action against their contract supplier to get their order filled.

While the county was unable to find a second source of salt, neighboring Baltimore City used an emergency contract with the county's salt supplier to keep ahead of the snow and ice storms that have pummeled the area since Christmas.

Baltimore County has used 47,771 tons of salt so far this winter, compared to only 20,000 tons for all of last winter.

The county has a year-to-year contract with a AKZO, the world's largest supplier of rock salt, at prices ranging from $31 to $38 a ton. The salt AKZO supplies to Baltimore County comes from the company's sea water extraction facility on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, north of Venezuela.

C. Richard Moore, the county highway chief, said the county started the winter with its standard order for 20,000 tons of salt, to be delivered as needed. In November, the county had 10,500 tons in its stockpiles, including 5,000 tons left from last winter.

"We thought that would be enough for this year," said Mr. Moore. "Winter proved us wrong."

Meanwhile, the city began the winter with 12,000 tons of salt, according to Public Works Director George G. Balog. He said the city uses an average of 14,000 tons a winter.

"By Jan. 17, we had already used nearly all of that 12,000 tons, so we put out an emergency contract because we knew we would need more than normal," Mr. Balog said.

The emergency contract was with AKZO, the county's supplier, for $40 a ton, about $13 more than the city was paying to its regular supplier, Morton.

"We managed to always keep at least two days' supply of salt ahead of what we were using by having this emergency contract," Mr. Balog said.

He said the extra $13 a ton turned out to be a bargain. As the storms kept coming, other governments along the East Coast were paying as much as $70 a ton, he said.

The city has used 34,000 tons of salt this winter, about 13,000 tons less than the county. Winter operations have cost the city $2.7 million, Mr. Balog said.

As the county's salt supplies dwindled in January, it tried to find additional suppliers, too. But it couldn't find anyone willing to take on new customers.

"I can't explain how the city got an emergency contract order and we couldn't," Mr. Moore said.

On Jan. 19, 300 county workers in 160 salt trucks ran out of salt. Two days later, at AKZO's Baltimore warehouse, county drivers -- who watched trucks from other subdivisions pull away with full loads of salt -- were told there wasn't enough for them.

The county Office of Law sent a letter to AKZO that same day "reminding" the company of its contract.

"AKZO responded quickly to the letter, and salt was flowing to the county right away," said Deputy County Attorney Virginia W. Barnhart.

Molly Mangan, a spokeswoman for AKZO, which has headquarters outside Scranton, Pa., said the company has contracts with more than 5,000 subdivisions around the country. Starting in mid-January, AKZO took on some noncontract customers because of the unusual demand .

"Because of the demand, our customers sometimes didn't get the full order they put in for because we were trying to get some salt to all of our contract customers," Ms. Mangan said. She said contract customers were given preference over noncontract customers.

The same ice and snow that created the demand for salt hampered the company's ability to deliver it, she said.

The county's Mr. Moore said, "Last year we had nine storms including the March blizzard. This year we've had 11 storms. The difference is that this year we've had more ice than snow, and ice demands more salt than snow."

In addition to paying more for salt, Baltimore County has paid $792,675 in overtime to the drivers and other employees who fought this winter's storms, compared with $483,567 last year.

This month, the County Council approved an additional $2 million to cover storm-related costs. At that time, the county had spent $1.25 million.

How expensive will the future be? "The Old Farmer's Almanac" forecast for next week predicts freezing rain and snow. Sound familiar?

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