Although winter has yet to arrive, North America is already facing a road salt shortage.
Efforts are being made to bring salt from around the world, but type, quality and logistics means that even at substantially higher prices the gap will not be filled.
So how did the road salt shortage happen? Three mines supply most of North America’s road salt. The largest mine is located beneath Lake Michigan at Goderich, Ont. Most of the rock salt is distributed throughout the Great Lakes by ship during the summer months.
So why is rock salt in short supply? According to Landscape Ontario, population and salt demands are growing exponentially. Society expects safe communities, without inconveniences, and will not tolerate liability for unsafe conditions; hence the growing demand for road salt exceeds annual production levels.
As well, the winter of 2017/18 was particularly rough, including an ice event in April, consuming all available salt and depleting reserves. There is normally 30 per cent held in reserve from one year to the next.
Compass Minerals operates the world’s largest salt mine at Goderich, Ont., marketed under the Sifto brand. The Compass mine experienced a labour strike earlier this year, diminishing production.
Furthermore, another major mine, operated by Cargill, experienced flooding in its shafts, with possible long-term implications.
The Canadian Salt Company mine is attempting to pick up the contractual obligations of the first two.
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Most provinces, states, regions and municipalities have ordered 10 to 20 per cent more salt, based on last years’ experience. Governments and those who maintain public infrastructure are given first priority with supplies.
This leaves small users, such as private contractors, out in the cold. Many have received limited or ‘no salt’ notices. Without an assured supply of salt, contractors are being forced to abandon contracts due to liability exposure, according to Landscape Ontario.
The shortage will be an ongoing social issue with no firm answer. However, snow and ice management professionals associated with Landscape Ontario are working together to promote optimum safety for all.