$13K payout for Amherst from Ohio-wide rock salt scandal

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@civitasmedia.com

A check for $13,161 will be cut to cover Amherst’s losses in a statewide winter road salt scandal.

Nearly 850 public entities in 87 Ohio counties will share in $11.5 million as part of an antitrust lawsuit against Cargill and Morton Salt companies.

“When I announced this settlement in June, I indicated my intention to return a significant portion of the money to local agencies and governments that buy rock salt,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We know these agencies stretch public funds and taxpayer dollars as far as possible, and we hope this money will help them make roads safer for the citizens who depend on them.”

Cargill and Morton were accused in March 2012 of dividing up the Ohio rock salt market and agreeing not to compete with each other for public bids.

As part of the alleged conspiracy, the two companies decided in advance which would win specific bids in Ohio, according to the attorney general’s suit.

“The alleged conspiracy was especially hard on the northern two-thirds of the state, where typically harsher winters and heavier snowfall amounts require that far more tax dollars be spent on salt and snow removal annually,” said a release by DeWine’s office.

The state’s suit targeted the three-year span from 2008 to 2010, during which Amherst paid $433,608 to buy salt from Cargill.

That breaks down to $153,551 for salt in 2008, $112,641 in 2009, and $167,416 in 2010.

The two companies admitted no wrongdoing but chose to settle just before a jury trial was set to begin.

Cities, villages, and other local governments are splitting about $6.8 million while the Ohio Department of Transportation will get $1.7 million.

The Ohio Turnpike Commission will get $174,435.

The approximately $2.8 million remainder will go to the state’s antitrust fund, which DeWine said is required by law.

“It’s going to be peanuts to us,” mayor David Taylor said in June, before submitting paperwork asking for a partial refund.

He was pleasantly surprised upon learning how large the state’s check would be.

“That’s more than I expected. It’s good. I’ll take every penny we can get,” he said. “We’ll use it wisely.”

Last year, Amherst paid $54.87 per ton for rock salt through the state purchasing program. The price this year has risen to $55.41 per ton.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk