The Associated General Contractors of America has petitioned the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to reopen its rulemaking on emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. The retrofit rule is subject to federal approval of CARB's request for a “waiver of federal preemption,” and the EPA is expected to act on the request quickly.

A waiver would require that most construction contractors working in California retrofit or replace up to 90% of their off-road diesel equipment over the next decade. Although the federal Clean Air Act typically prohibits states from setting emission standards for off-road diesel equipment, the statute makes an exception for California. If it is approved by the EPA, several other states such as Illinois are expected to craft similar statutes.

Salt psychology

Burned by last year's tough winter, hoarding is contributing to double and even triple price increases.

Last year's heavy snows left many Northeast and Midwest public works departments out of salt by February and salt miners tapped out by March.

According to the Salt Institute, mines are working “flat out” — as close to 24/7 as safety allows — to replenish supplies. While mine expansions are under way, it'll be years before they start producing.

In addition, a variety of other factors are driving up salt prices:

  • Skyrocketing energy costs
  • Mine skilled-laborer shortages
  • In the Midwest, a late end to last winter's season delayed shipments along the upper Mississippi River and heavy spring flooding closed the supply pipeline for four weeks, impeding efforts to replenish stockpiles along the river.
  • Increased competition for barges, trucks, rail cars, and Great Lakes ships to move the salt.
  • Customer stockpiling — for example, five DOT bids increased by a combined 2 million tons. Since most contracts require the timely delivery of as much as 120% of the bid amount, suppliers were reluctant to submit bids. The high supply caps also cut into salt availability. As to whether there will be enough salt, that's up to Mother Nature.
  • To be more specific, says Salt Institute President Dick Hanneman, it depends on the number of snow events requiring response and the type of snow: how heavy/wet, how deep, the duration of a snow event.

    Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that snow can't be predicted more than several days in advance, Farmer's Almanac forecasts a “numbingly cold” winter, with heavy snow in the Great Lakes and Plains regions. Forecasts for 2009/10 aren't yet available.

    To prepare for this season and next, Hanneman recommends:

  • Maintaining at least a year's supply. For 2009/10, agencies should have already budgeted to build storage capacity so they can start taking delivery in mid-2009.
  • Making sure all drivers are trained to fight snow effectively; you'll find free, downloadable training guides at www.saltinstitute.org.
  • Calibrating spreaders to manufacturer specifications to ensure they disperse the appropriate amount of material.
  • Having a written snow and ice control plan in place.
  • Also, look into imported salt, which may be less expensive than domestic depending on the distribution route, as well as pre-wetting and liquid de-icing. (See page 88 for an example.)