Indoor salt

Mayor Rahm Emanuel greets employees of the Streets and Sanitation Department during a press event at the McCormick Place indoor salt pile in Chicago. (Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune / February 1, 2014)

In the midst of a rough winter, some municipalities are rationing their road salt supplies given a regional shortage -- but Chicago officials say they're not worried about the city's salt supply.

This season's above-average snowfall and deep-freeze temperatures have not only created a greater need for salt, but also transportation delays from suppliers sending the material. In response, some towns are being careful to conserve their supplies, mindful that the snow season is far from over.

In Aurora, city officials are asking residents to drive slower and take extra caution as salt is rationed. City crews are focusing on primary streets that are more heavily traveled. Smaller, neighborhood streets will still receive salt but it will be used "conservatively," Media Relations Manager Dan Ferrelli said.

As of last week, the city had already used about 13,500 tons of salt, typically the final total for a season, Ferrelli said. So far this year, the city has responded to about triple the number of winter events it does in the average year, creating the greater need for salt.

Like much of the region, Aurora gets its salt as part of the Illinois Joint Purchasing Program, an initiative in which the state purchases materials in bulk for local municipalities. Central Management Services officials, who oversee that program, did not return requests for comment Saturday regarding the salt shortage.

River Forest Village Administrator Eric Palm sent a letter to residents warning of a salt shortage and describing how some plowing would be cut back. Palm said Saturday officials are especially concerned about having salt left over for the approach of spring, when freezing rain and icy roads may be more prevalent.

"That's when you really need the salt," he said.

In Naperville, the city has used about 16,000 tons of salt, compared to 4,300 tons at this point in the season last year. Naperville has about 5,000 tons of salt left in its domes and is waiting for about 7,000 tons it ordered, said Communications Manager Linda LaCloche. In the past few days, only small quantities have been delivered and officials haven't had any luck reaching out to other distributors, she said.

Like Aurora, Naperville is responding by continuing to salt main roads but is changing its approach to less busy streets. For those roads, crews will use a mix of salt and sand and only apply it to critical areas such as hills, curves and intersections with stoplights or stop signs, La Cloche said.

In Oak Park, public works crews have spread more than 3,300 tons of salt so far this season, compared with 4,000 tons used all of last winter, according to a release from the village this week.

Because of the run, village officials said they will take action to preserve supplies if more snow storms occur by only salting some residential streets at intersection and stop signs and, as a last resort because of its potential to clog sewer lines, mixing sand with salt to provide traction

Despite concern in the suburbs, the city of Chicago isn't worried about its salt supply and is still working through the 280,000 tons of it stockpiled at the beginning of the season, Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe stated in an email. The city continues to receive shipments "virtually daily" and had 80,000 tons before snow hit on Friday, she said.

At a press event Saturday at McCormick Place, where the city stockpiles salt, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shook hands with plow drivers, some of whom said their sleep schedules were out of whack because of many late-night snows.

"The weather's testing everybody," Emanuel told reporters.

Similarly, other suburbs are aware of the shortage, but don't need to adjust operations.

Elgin Streets Superintendent Dan Rich said the city's sustainability plan has already decreased the amount of salt used by introducing a beet juice mixture about five years ago. Combining the materials reduced the city's need for salt by about 35 percent, he said.

Still, Elgin crews have put down about 9,800 tons this season when a typical winter would require about 6,800 tons, Rich said.

"Certainly we're cognizant of it," he said. The salt stockpile is "evaluated sometimes on a daily basis." Elgin's salt domes currently are storing 1,600 to 1,700 tons.

"Everyone's in the same boat. It's been a real tough year. Very taxing on people, equipment and materials," Rich said.

Tribune reporter Melissa Jenco contributed.

mmanchir@tribune.com | Twitter: @TribuneMM

kthayer@tribune.com | Twitter: @knthayer