Salt shortage plagues town

Incessant snow exhausts supply

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Warning: slippery roads ahead.

A steady stream of snow and ice storms this winter has kept plow trucks busy spreading salt and sand. But now the salt shed is nearly empty in Williston and elsewhere. Additional shipments are stalled amid a nationwide supply crunch.

Public Works Director Neil Boyden wants residents to know he and his road crews are still trying to keep roads clear. But with supplies having dwindled to less than what is usually used for a single storm, Williston road crews are doling out salt in smaller doses, mixing it with sand and skipping applications altogether on less-traveled roads. Crews are concentrating on intersections, curves and hills.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Boyden said. “And we’re going above and beyond trying to get more product.”

Williston, like towns throughout Vermont, has space for only a limited stockpile of salt. The town’s shed can hold enough salt for at most three storms.

So Williston counts on ongoing shipments to replenish supplies. But an unusually snowy winter in Vermont and other parts of the country has strained the supply chain, and now many areas are not receiving salt quickly enough to replace what is being used.

The town has sought help from the state and gone outside normal supply channels.

Earlier this month, Williston worked with three other Chittenden County towns to arrange shipments from Canada. But after much red tape and a couple of shipments, that supply was cut off.

As for the state, Boyden said limited help has been forthcoming. “We asked for seven dump truck loads and we got three loads,” he said. “And that wouldn’t even get us through one storm.”

Vermont Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi said the state is struggling with the same supply shortage.

“We understand people are in a pinch right now and we’re trying to do what we can to help,” he said.

The Agency of Transportation said last week that it had provided salt to nearly 100 municipalities. However, the agency also announced that it would only loan salt until a given maintenance district’s storage facility reaches 25 percent of capacity. In District 5, which includes Williston, the reserve was down to about 36 percent, Ziconni said.

Meanwhile, Williston has even begun to run out of sand. Unlike salt, the town buys all its sand at the beginning of the winter.

“I’ve never seen the pile that low,” said Rick Peet, Williston’s public works foreman. He said the town’s sand stockpile had dwindled from 20 feet high at the beginning of the winter to less than 4 feet high.

As of Feb. 5, the town had used 88 percent of the 2,100 tons of salt it planned to apply this winter. Williston will likely spend more than the $98,700 budgeted for salt this year, which could force cuts in other areas such as road paving.

“Who knows what Mother Nature will bring us over the next few weeks, but I suspect she won’t be nice enough to allow us to stay within the salt budget,” Boyden wrote in a memo.