In N.J., salt supply dwindles as storms continue

Posted: February 15, 2014

A lingering snowstorm that dumped a foot of snow on parts of southern New Jersey over the last two days played havoc with public transportation, caused scores of accidents, and forced the closing of schools, universities, municipal offices, courts and major shopping malls.

More snow - another 2 to 5 inches in some places overnight - was expected to complicate the area's Friday commute and further cut into salt supplies depleted by a series of winter storms.

On Thursday, more than a foot of accumulation was recorded in Pennsauken while other communities such as Cherry Hill and Camden reported just under 12 inches, National Weather Service officials said. Mount Laurel and Lumberton each had more than 10 inches. Marlton and West Deptford Township each picked up 6 inches.

The new round of snow meant that counties and municipalities were quickly exhausting funds set aside to pay for salt and treat roads, officials said.

"We're having a storm every week," said Camden County Freeholder Ian K. Leonard. "Naturally, there's a salt shortage. We're critically low."

The county, which had about 5,000 tons of salt on hand, did not activate its agreement to provide municipalities with salt to tend to county roadways. It instead assumed those tasks, given the shortage, said spokesman Dan Keashen.

"The challenge is in the next round," Keashen said of upcoming storms. Local officials agreed that they hoped to restock before more snow storms.

"Salt is an issue probably in every town," said Gloucester Township Mayor David Mayer. "We have enough to get through this weekend."

The township has outstanding salt orders with two companies, Mayer said. Gloucester Township also outsources plowing services for its 210 miles of roadway.

Gloucester County has about 1,700 tons of salt in its six salt sheds, which supply 18 municipalities as well, officials said.

"Fortunately for this storm here, it was wet . . . there was limited amount of salt used in Gloucester County because it wasn't very slippery," Gloucester County administrator Chad Bruner said Thursday afternoon.

But county officials plan to use more through Friday morning to deal with additional snow and low temperatures expected.

"We will be fine this storm, and then if it snows Saturday," Bruner said, hoping that next week would bring respite and a chance for the county to restock.

Burlington County's salt supply was about one-third full at the start of the storm, said spokesman Eric Arpert.

"We're confident that we'll have enough . . . to handle the pending storms," Arpert said. The county, he said, has been receiving salt from a Wilmington, Del., facility after local providers began to run low.

Even with all the salting and plowing by hundreds of trucks, slick conditions led to nearly 200 accidents and contributed to at least 435 calls for aid, involving spinouts, breakdowns and flat tires, state police said. No fatalities were reported.

Store parking lots were choked with snow and slush. Cherry Hill, Moorestown and Deptford malls planned to open later Thursday, but officials decided by noon to remain closed.

The storm added to the scheduling problems for New Jersey school systems, which must be in session for 180 days to receive state aid. That requirement must be met by June 30.

The region has been hit this winter with four snows, each one with 6 inches or more accumulation.

By late Thursday, most school officials were still mulling decisions over the possible closings or delayed openings on Friday.

A school board may extend the school year or open days previously scheduled as closed for students such as holidays, staff development or vacation days, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Districts may wish to look to the February Presidents' Day break, winter break and spring break. They may also consider adding days in June.

Another snow day may send Collingswood Schools Superintendent Scott Oswald back to the school calendar drawing board. The Camden County school district added Friday, Feb. 14, to the calendar as a makeup day.

Students previously were scheduled off, and staff only were to report. But that was changed to make up for an earlier snow day. Monday was added to the calendar as a staff day.

"It's been a crazy winter, that's for sure," Oswald said.

What happens if there is another snow day?

Oswald said the district already has taken two days from its April spring break to make up missed days and added a day to extend the school year to June 20.

"We can do one more from spring break. After that we have to add on to the end of June," Oswald said. "Nobody is particularly happy about it, me included."

The storm caused only sporadic outages. About 300 PSE&G customers lost power in Burlington County, but power was restored in less than two hours, said company spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd.

Public transportation was delayed or halted public across the Garden State.

NJ Transit buses ran about 15 minutes behind schedule, and some were detoured while some of its trains were canceled.

PATCO ran smoothly on Thursday, with trains operating slowly but without serious interruption.

PATCO now says it will run its Tuesday-through-Thursday schedule on Friday and next Monday, days that are usually run on a construction schedule. The trains will run on the construction schedule Saturday and Sunday, which can mean waits of nearly 30 minutes.

At Newark Liberty International Airport, at least 600 flights were canceled. They were among 7,000 affected by the form.

On the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, speed restrictions of 35 to 45 mph were in place along different segments of the roads.

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