Suppliers make millions on state contract
By Zachary Matson
Salting New York’s vast state and local road network is big business. A statewide salt contract through the Office of General Services (OGS) was estimated to be worth about $240 million each year in the most recent bid documents.
A half-dozen suppliers accounted for more than $850 million in salt purchases statewide the past five years, according to state records. Upstate’s American Rock Salt and Minnesota’s Cargill supplied nearly three-quarters of all salt ordered by state agencies, local governments and other users under OGS’s buying agreement.
While Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force members said they never heard input from the salt providers, the industry lobbied successfully for a law in 2022 that bars the use of foreign salt sources in state contracts.
The past five years, American Rock Salt, with the country’s largest salt mine in Mount Morris, booked $350 million in salt sales. The commodity sells for less than $100 a ton.
On average, governments statewide purchased over 2.7 million tons in each of the past five years. The 12 counties of the Adirondack Park accounted for over 435,000 tons of the purchases for the 2021-2022 winter season alone, according to records. The task force estimated that around 193,000 tons of salt are applied to Adirondack Park roads each year.
Some task force members raised concerns that the contract structure disincentivized highway departments from reducing salt use. Departments file an estimate of how much salt they will need in the spring and incur penalties if they use too much or too little of the preseason order. Salt users also make purchases outside the state contract, including most of the salt used in New York City.
“It’s based on a guess, you don’t know what the weather patterns will be the next winter,” said Hamilton County Highway Superintendent Tracy Eldridge, a task force member. “You should be able to get what salt you need and not worry about going over.”
OGS’s Joe Brill said minimum order requirements were lowered this year and that users could participate by purchasing as little as one truckload of salt each year.
“These are competitively bid contracts and our… contracting process ensures we drive economies of scale with pricing while ensuring contractors produce an adequate supply through the winter season,” Brill said.
More about road salt
Read more of our ongoing coverage around road salt and water pollution in the Adirondacks.
Photo at top: The dome structure covers a salt pile at a state Department of Transportation facility on Route 3 near Harrisville. Photo by Stephanie Tartakoff