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Cook County Loaned Out More Than 1,400 Tons Of Salt During Brutal Winter

CHICAGO (STMW) -- While many suburbs struggled to stretch salt supplies during one of the snowiest winters on record , Cook County was quietly doling out tons to those in need.

The brutal winter — which saw more than 80 inches of snowfall — left many suburbs close to the end of their supplies, many using less salt as a last resort. And many turned to Cook County for help. The county loaned out 1,339 tons, about 2.8 percent of its salt supply this winter, according to Frank Shuftan, spokesman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The top loans went out to Blue Island — 300 tons of salt — and Lemont and Lake County at 200 tons, Shuftan said.

Cook County used 32,700 tons of salt on county roads this winter but still had 11,000 tons on hand for next season, Shuftan said.

The suburbs and municipalities that borrowed the salt must now add that amount to their orders for next winter, according to Cook County maintenance bureau chief John Yonan. Ultimately, those communities must return the equivalent of that salt to Cook County.

Yonan said the county also had extra salt from the 2012-2013 supply due to the mild winter. The county spent $2.6 million on salt last year, at about $55 a ton. That's a good deal in the salt world, where shortages mean big bucks for salt companies.

"We loaned out the salt at the rate we paid for it. What they're going to get for it, we don't know," Yonan said. "The market right now, it seems like it's going to be a buyer's market . . . they're going to go bid it and then they're going to return it, to replenish it to us."

Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, said Yonan reached out to south suburban public works managers in January.

"I was in a meeting with John and he said 'I think we can help.'" Paesel said. "They clearly did a great job in helping out with shortages."

Paesel said there was no way to predict this year's brutal winter: "Everybody is used to the snowfall we've had the last few years, and this was so unusual that they just ran out very quickly," Paesel said. "I think part of the problem was even some of the salt suppliers couldn't get their supplies here because the lakes were frozen. It was a combination of things working against them."

In early February, salt was averaging $200 a ton because of high demand this winter, a whopping increase from the average $50 a ton. In southwest suburban Tinley Park, crews had used about 75 percent of their salt supply by the first week of February. The suburb uses sand to help the supply go a bit further.

Other suburbs that got a bit of help from Cook County include Palos Hills with 60 tons, Harvey at 60 tons, Oak Lawn at 47 tons and Worth Township at 62 tons, according to the county.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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