A roughly 20 per cent increase in the cost of road salt, largely prompted by this summer’s record fuel prices, is a cause for concern for governments and contractors in Canada and the U.S.
In Canada especially, where purchases are made in U.S. dollars and exchange rates have widened, the price has gone up substantially.
Mainroad Contracting, which manages contracts throughout the province including the Lower Mainland and Howe Sound, says salt prices have risen from roughly $70 per tonne at this time last year to the current price of $104.50 per tonne, an increase of over 65 per cent in one year.
As well as a user, Mainroad is also the largest supplier of salt on the West Coast, importing the salt from Mexico by ocean carriers.
“Salt costs have risen over the last few years due to fuel costs and the rise in the American dollar, as we must purchase using U.S. dollars,” said Real Charrois, general manager of Mainroad. “We do utilize salt brine, which is 23 per cent salt, so it effectively reduces salt usage by two thirds when we are able to use it, as it is dependent on weather conditions. It works best with little precipitation and longer range cold snaps.”
While the price of fuel has gone down since the summer, companies like Mainroad have to purchase well-ahead of the winter season.
“Salt is not a commodity readily available off the shelf,” said Charrois. “Salt demand worldwide has increased for product development and food sources, and we are competing on a worldwide market.”
According to the Ministry of Transportation, which contracts out the maintenance of highways and bridges to private companies, the cost of salt is the responsibility of contractors and is covered in the bidding process.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler also purchases salt each year for municipal roads, trails and pedestrian areas. According to Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services for the RMOW, the municipality has seen the price of salt increase, although by less than some U.S. municipalities that have seen their costs more than double.
“Our quoted prices have gone up, but not to that level yet,” he said. “We don’t know what the final cost will be, I don’t have those numbers, but with respect to our budget we have sufficient funds to cover the cost of the increase. It is an odd spike in the market that is affecting everybody.”
Last year the municipality purchased $30,000 worth of road salt at roughly $30 per tonne.
Barnett said they are currently talking to Mainroad to see whether it’s possible to bulk order salt this year and potentially save money.
As well, the municipality may increase its purchase of calcium chloride, which costs less than road salt but has to be applied before a snowfall to be effective.
“It’s an anti-icing agent, so you apply it to the roads before things freeze up for it to do the best job, whereas salt is a melting agent that you can apply after the snow and ice has accumulated,” he said. “We’re looking at everything to save money, but if a storm hits it’s not something you can really cut back on.”