Road salt supply secure this winter but future uncertain

The market for road salt in the Atlantic Region is facing uncertainty in the wake of the planned closure of the Potashcorp mines near Sussex.

Salt operations to continue at Picadilly for the time being

Road salt is loaded onto a truck at the Town of Quispamsis public works yard. (Connell Smith/ CBC)

The market for road salt in the Atlantic region is facing uncertainty in the wake of the planned closure of the PotashCorp mines near Sussex.

PotashCorp is the source for much of the salt used by New Brunswick's Department of Transportation, many of the province's municipalities, and a large amount of the salt used on highways in northern parts of Maine.

Road salt continues to be shipped by truck from PotashCorp's stockpiles at Penobsquis, and municipalities that have inquired are being told there is plenty of salt for the remainder of the winter.

A steady stream of transport trucks could be seen loading salt at the mine last week.

The situation is less certain after this winter. PotashCorp has been vague about timelines for the wind-down of its salt production activities.

Contracts honoured

Mark Fracchia, the company's president, told reporters last week his company would honour contracts with Cargill, the international company that distributes salt from the mine.

"For the time being, we'll continue mining salt until such time that Cargill has been able to secure other sources," said Fracchia.

You can see two or three times the cost for delivery alone- Gary Losier, Town of Quispamsis

Reached Friday, company spokesperson Randy Burton would not be more specific. 

"Salt operations will continue for the time being at Picadilly, but we can't say for how long at the moment," said Burton. 

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said Friday the province's salt supply contract with Cargill runs until November 2017.

The province uses about 140,000 tonnes of road salt — all of it from the Sussex area mine.

In the 2014-2015 fiscal year the bill came to over $11.5 million.

The Town of Quispamsis uses between 2,500 and 3,500 tonnes of road salt in a year.

Gary Losier, Director of Engineering and Works for the Town of Quispamsis, expects salt prices to rise when operations end at Potashcorp in Penobsquis. (Connell Smith/ CBC)
Gary Losier, the town's engineering and works director, says the town paid $71 per tonne for its most recent purchase. 

"We're fortunate in that we have a close supplier," said Losier.

"We've been able to parlay that into a reasonable cost for our snow-fighting expenses in the run of a winter.

Salt prices could increase

Losier suspects PotashCorp's plans to close the Picadilly mine will have a dramatic effect on salt prices. The only other salt supply in the region is the Canada Salt mine in Pugwash, N.S.

"Obviously, when you get to the further distances the prices go up," said Losier.

"If you're dealing with somebody in Pugwash, for example, you can see two or three times the cost for delivery alone."

Losier says the town is already looking at alternatives to reduce salt use. They include such possibilities as mixing salt with sand, and liquid pre-wetting of salt which allows it to be used more efficiently. 

It's not clear if the Pugwash mine can accommodate all of the region's road salt needs in future.

A spokesperson for the mine's owner, Windsor Salt of Chicago, did not respond to CBC's request. 

Cargill Salt's head office in Minneapolis also did not respond.