2019 WINTER WEATHER

Iowa City running low on salt

Turned away by the city, school district sought alternatives

Michael Wombacher, lead carpenter, clears snow with a front end loader at Iowa City Liberty High School in North Liberty on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Michael Wombacher, lead carpenter, clears snow with a front end loader at Iowa City Liberty High School in North Liberty on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — If a shipment of salt doesn’t arrive soon, some municipalities such as Iowa City could run out of the de-icing agent.

The city has run so low that it has turned away the Iowa City Community School District, which traditionally purchases salt from the city’s streets department.

Brock Holub, Iowa City superintendent of streets and traffic engineering, said he has to focus on the streets first.

“We’re going to be real close to having absolutely no material after this event, and going into this weekend there’s more snow forecast,” Holub said Tuesday. “Schools normally come to get it from us and we have enough. The problem this year is we don’t have enough to give out.”

Before another blast of snow hit the state Tuesday evening, Holub said he had about 150 tons of straight salt and another 400 tons of sand-salt mix.

To manage a dwindling supply, the city has shifted from a 50-50 mix of sand and salt to a mixture that is closer to 25 percent to 33 percent salt, Holub said.

In addition, trucks could begin applying sand and salt only on curves, intersections and hills, to further spread out the supply, he said.

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Jeff Barnes, assistant director of facilities management for the school district, said he understands the city’s position and the district has managed to purchase salt from nearby company Gee Asphalt Systems in Cedar Rapids.

Barnes said the district doesn’t have storage for salt, which is applied to parking lots, some sidewalks and playgrounds by school employees.

“With the city’s shortage, of course we’re going to be cut off first,” Barnes said. “The people have to get to the schools, otherwise it doesn’t do me much good if the kids can’t get there.”

So far this year, the district has gone through approximately 400 tons of salt, Barnes said.

Iowa City parks and trails also could see limited salt application while remaining supplies are focused on streets.

Holub said he has been working with his salt supplier and is confident he’ll see a shipment soon.

Iowa City’s storage shed can hold approximately 3,500 tons of salt, with about that much salt used in the average winter, Holub said.

This winter nearly has tapped out that supply already, so almost three weeks ago Holub put in an order for about 1,800 tons of salt. He has received a little more than 200 tons so far.

“Everywhere is having a hard time getting salt. The demand for it is just so high due to all the events that are taking place,” Holub said.

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As with many municipalities across the state, Iowa City contracts with the Iowa Department of Transportation for salt, which is delivered by barge up the Mississippi River. Salt orders are made in the spring, Holub said.

With so many contracts to manage, the state requires buyers to take at least 80 percent of the salt they ordered for the season. In addition, buyers cannot purchase more than 110 percent of what they ordered.

The city of Cedar Rapids reports it is “a good position” with its salt supply and doesn’t anticipate any shortages.

“We have plenty on hand and have been able to replenish our supply in between snow events,” Mike Duffy, city street operations manager, said in an email. “We have managed our materials in order to ensure we have enough in stock or on order, and feel good about where we are sitting with material.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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