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Milwaukee prepares for possible salt shortage as winter approaches

Posted at 5:15 PM, Sep 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-05 14:44:14-04

A 12-week strike at a Canadian salt mine has impacted Southeastern Wisconsin's salt supply as distributors gear up for winter. 

The strike began April 27 at the mine in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. 

Union workers announced on July 16 they had finally reached a new contract with their employer to resume operations at the mine. Their representatives were quoted as saying almost all the workers are now back on the job. 

But the strike lasted roughly 12 weeks, and the salt mine in Goderich is among the largest in the world. 

At least three area distributors rely on its salt when arranging shipments to Southeastern Wisconsin through the Port of Milwaukee. 

Adam Schlicht, Port Director, said the current salt piles at the port are about 40 percent smaller than they were at this time last year. 

"Our timeline for the year is just a little bit delayed," Schlicht said. 

He said he's not worried about a salt shortage right now, and is confident the area will find a way to get all the salt it needs this winter. 

Schlicht said local distributors could turn to international salt ships, carrying supply from countries in Africa, if the Great Lakes ships that typically bring Canadian salt to Milwaukee remain in short supply. 

He said the Port of Milwaukee has also notified the U.S. Coast Guard that it might need help cutting ice on Lake Michigan in January and February to keep salt ships coming in. Schlicht said taking salt shipments late into winter is one way distributors could try and minimize the impact of the shortage in shipments this fall. 

"One thing we've already done at the port is coordination so that chain, that supply chain opportunity, remains available," Schlicht said. 

Timothy Brennan, President of Brennan Landscaping Inc., said about 25 percent of the company's business is snow removal that happens during the winter months. 

He said the business's salt distributor notified him of a possible shortage, and he decided to order some salt a bit earlier than normal this year. 

Brennan noted there was also a slight price increase to the salt because supply is down. But he thinks the purchase was worth it.  

"To react on short notice come winter isn't a good strategy at all," Brennan said. 

He noted a possible shortage would hit small businesses like his harder than large salt buyers - like municipalities or highway departments. 

"The suppliers get tight in that situation and they're going to take care of their largest customers first," Brennan said.