Kitchener-Waterloo

Road salt is so pricey, this snow remover sprays brine instead

The great shortage of 2018-2019 may be behind us, but the days of cheap road salt are probably over. Contractors say they're paying double what they used to — so spraying brine may be the solution.

The road salt shortage is over, but don't expect the cost to go down

A staff member at Reliable Care Premium Landscapes sprays salt water brine. In 2018 the company spent $250,000 to convert its salt trucks to brine after the cost of rock salt skyrocketed. (Submitted by: Leo Varlese)

The great salt shortage of 2018-2019 is behind us, but the days of cheap rock salt are probably over.

Municipalities are preparing for the worst, including the Region of Waterloo which has budgeted half a million dollars more just for salt in its next fiscal plan.

"Wholesale salt? Picked up in Goderich, we used to pay $55 a tonne, $70 a tonne delivered pre-season delivered, $80 delivered once the season has come into play," said Jon Agg, who owns Pristine Property Management.

Now, he says the cheapest he's been able to find salt is $111 a tonne — and as expensive as $165.

Agg said the increase is simple economics; when last year's salt shortage pushed up prices and demand held steady it proved the market handle the increase.

"It's what the market will bear."

Goderich is home to the world's largest underground salt mine, on the shores of Lake Huron. A workers' strike in mid-2018 affected the salt supply that year — forcing some contractors to get creative and import salt from as far away as Egypt. 

Others, like Reliable Care Premium Landscapes in Scarborough, saw the writing on the wall and decided it was time for a change.

Brine: less salt, more environmentally-friendly

"We've converted all our trucks to use liquid brine. We're no longer putting rock salt down," said general manager Leo Varlese.

His company spent $250,000 to convert their salt trucks to spray the brine — a technique used by some municipalities and the Ministry of Transportation on the 400-series highways.

The brine is salty water, mixed in a reservoir that "looks like a big hot tub," said Varlese. It uses a lot less salt and is better for the environment.

"We used 50 per cent less salt right off the bat," said Varlese, "Our big push as a company is that we truly believe in making the outside a place you want to be. It's all about the environment; that was our big push to do this, a huge investment. We could have bought a lot of salt with a quarter of a million dollars."

This will be just the second season for Reliable Care's brine experiment, but already Varlese says he's seeing a real difference.

"We don't kill the grass now anymore [on our condo properties], we don't kill the bushes. Whereas a lot of our work in the springtime was repairing grass and repairing vegetation.

"We don't have to do that anymore."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Sharkey is a regional producer supporting CBC bureaus across Ontario. She has been been based in Kitchener since the station was created in 2013, after working for CBC radio in Kelowna, Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, NU.

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