Running out of salt? No way

ALPENA – A mountain of salt on the shores of Thunder Bay is slowly being eaten away as loads of it are scooped up and hauled to Cheboygan, Sault Ste. Marie and other points.

But Northeast Michigan isn’t going to run out of the road deicer any time soon, officials said.

In Alcona County, road commission Managing Director Jesse Campbell said he ordered 4,000 tons this year.

“Normally we stock 6,000 tons,” Campbell said. “But we are trying a lot of new techniques, and one of these is pre-wetting with calcium chloride, which cuts your use of salt in half. Supposedly you can get down to zero and the salt will actually work.”

He and other officials said salt usage is actually down right now because it’s too cold.

Salt has to be applied at the right temperature and right time of day, otherwise it will freeze over and create more ice, Campbell said. Sunshine boosts its ability to melt ice and traffic helps disburse the deicer.

In Presque Isle County, road commission Superintendent/Manager Jerry Smigelski said he isn’t worried about running out. He stocked 2,500 tons of salt in three sheds last fall.

“But freezing rain is when more salt is used,” he said, adding the forecast calls for drizzle on Friday.

City Engineer Rich Sullenger also said salt use has been up in Alpena.

“We’re using salt at a higher rate than we were last year because we seem to be getting quite a few smaller storms,” he said. “They started in December and have been pretty steady.”

The city placed an early order for salt and received it this fall, he said.

“Then we have a late order, which we are obligated to take at our request,” he said. “It’s sitting on the dock. We just have to tell them when we want it delivered.”

Russ Alger is director of the Institute of Snow Research at Michigan Technological University and has been studying deicers on roadways for 30 years.

“In years like this they run out quickly and it’s hard for them to predict how much to store,” Alger said. “And it’s a mess to store.”

Part of his research has been on the use of additives to rock salt, such as calcium chloride, the chemical Alcona County will be testing.

All deicers have their good and bad qualities, he said. Salt is edible, plentiful and cheap, although scientists are concerned about increased salinity in the Great Lakes.

Other additives include waste byproducts such as sugar beet juice, pickle brine and brewery waste, he said.

“There is a lot of interest in using waste byproducts,” he said. “They are always trying to get rid of this stuff or sell it to someone. The most common thing is that they all have some salt in them.

“I’ve tested quite a bit of sugar beet juice. It’s kind of a gooey, dark brine and it works fairly well. It smells kind of like molasses.”

Another deicer is urea, a fertilizer, but it helps weeds to grow like crazy, he said. And calcium magnesium acetate has a vinegar smell.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.