After a spring-like weekend, the grip of winter has once again tightened on Franklin County.
Despite a salt shortage last year and the supply of cinders being cut off this year, the lack of extreme winter storms has put the county highway department in good shape for the rest of the winter.
Since 2014, the county has used coal ash cinders from the Labadie power plant for traction control on icy roads. These cinders were supplied to the county free of charge and last year the county used 9,000 tons.
Last November, the county was notified by Ameren that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had put a halt on cinders being given to municipalities, but the county would be allowed to use its current supply on hand.
County Highway Administrator Jim Grutsch says remaining supplies of both salt and cinders are at good levels for the rest of the season.
If the need does arise, a new source of cinders has been found, but they will not be free.
“The cinders are slag from the steel foundry in Granite City,” Grutsch explained. “It’s basically sand that has been cooked and it’s essentially glass. They are an ideal, inert material. The net difference would be about $10 per ton over cinders from Labadie.”
If the cinders are needed, they will be transported to Franklin County by Beelman Truck Co. and the delivery will be included in the purchase price.
“We use an average of 12,000 tons of cinders each year,” Grutsch said. “Sometimes it’s 10,000 tons, sometimes its 15,000 tons. They are used mainly for traction control in ice events.”
Grutsch added the current supply of coal ash cinders is sufficient to last another four or five winter weather events this season.
He also is hopeful the EPA will change its ruling and the county can continue to get cinders for free from Ameren as it has for many years.
During an “average weather event,” the county uses between 100 and 200 tons of salt. At the current price, that amounts to $8,000 to $16,000 per event. When storage is at maximum capacity, the county can store about 1,200 tons of salt, at various locations, which is enough for about six winter storms.
Grutsch said the county salt supplies are fine until the end of the winter season as well.
In August 2019, the county secured a delivered price of $82.43 per ton from Champion Salt, St. Louis. Champion Salt will store salt and guarantee the storage until Feb. 28.
Despite a few breakdowns and accidents with county highway equipment this winter season, Grutsch says on a 1 to 10 scale, he ranks the fleet as un upper eight or a nine.
“We are in pretty good shape,” Grutsch said. “There are a couple of pieces we need to replace due to age. There is only so much you can do before it’s no longer cost effective.”
Throughout 2019, the county highway department focused on replacing and updating equipment of all types, including dump trucks, mowers and pickup trucks.
Last Tuesday, the county commission approved the purchase of another dump truck that will be equipped with a plow and salt-spreading equipment for the contract price of $200,130.
The price for the truck chassis is $161,886; the plow fixture is $12,929 and the salt spreader price is $15,900.
“The truck will be used in the eastern district of the county,” Grutsch said. “Once we take delivery, we will still be short one or two.”
The highway department also purchased two Chevrolet Silverado trucks from Don Brown Chevrolet for $29,337 each for a total cost of $58,674.
Since taking the reins at the highway department, Grutsch says he has weekly meetings in the eastern and western districts and has had the opportunity to meet every employee.
The department is currently looking for more employees and has job opportunities listed on the county website.
He added there has been no movement from either side on contract negotiations for the highway department employees.