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Multiple Snow, Ice Events Take Toll on Salt Supply

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Several county road departments in eastern Iowa say a high number of snow and ice events this winter have taken a big bite out of their supplies of road salt.

Secondary roads departments in Benton, Johnson, Jones, Linn, and Dubuque counties say they've already used nearly as much, if not more salt than what they used during the entire winter season last year. That's forced some counties to order more from suppliers outside what they already contracted for, or to decrease the amount of salt they mix with sand to conserve what they have left.

Even though this winter hasn't seen many outright blizzards, regular snowfalls have kept crews busy in Jones County, according to county engineer Derek Snead.

"It's been generally the 1, 2, and 3 inch variety, but it's been every 3 or 4 days, so whether it's 3 inches or 6 inches, we still have to send some amount of guys out, put the same amount of sand and salt down, and generally it takes just as much time to take care of a 2 inch snowstorm as a 6 inch snowstorm.

Snead can get an additional 20 percent of the amount of salt he originally contracted for, meaning he'll have to try to stretch another few hundred tons through the remainder of this winter.

"This year we're definitely going to have to take all of our 20 percent that we're allotted."

But prolonged stretches of sub-zero temperatures and so many snow events add to the unpredictable nature of his job.

"Last year, it was the end of the year that was really bad, and we're hoping that this year is vice-versa; hopefully the bad stuff is behind us, but we can't really count on that I suppose," Snead told us.

At the very least, Snead hopes to get a break from the regular snow and frigid temperatures, which have given his crew very little time for vehicle maintenance.

"We haven't had an extensive period of time where we can get all of the machines into the shops and do our repairs."

Snead says his department has between $250,000 - $350,000 budgeted for a typical winter, and this winter's budget could potentially double that.

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