Obama Admin Denies New Jersey Quick Access to Rock Salt

Administration refuses to grant waiver for 1920 law to speed transport of salt for icy roads

February 17, 2014

The Obama Administration has not approved a waiver that would allow New Jersey quick access to tons of salt for ice-covered roads at a port in Maine despite the state being at dangerously low levels.

Townsquare Media reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied the state’s request for a waiver of the Jones Act, a 1920 law requiring that all cargo and passengers moving between points in the United States be transported on American vessels.

A waiver would have allowed New Jersey to get the salt within days from a foreign transport in Searsport, Maine.

New Jersey Department of Transportation Spokesman Joe Dee told the Washington Free Beacon that a waiver from the Jones Act appears "unlikely."

"We were pursuing a waiver, but we’ve been advised we wouldn’t get one," Dee said. "It seems unlikely we will get it."

DHS did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The numerous winter storms this year have left New Jersey low on salt to treat their roads.

"The recent series of winter storms in New Jersey have reduced the supply of rock salt to critically low levels," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R.) wrote in an executive order prior to the latest Nor’easter that hit the state last week.

"Rock salt is an essential to maintaining safe travel on state, county, local, and interstate roads as a result of the dangerous and icy conditions during these winter storms," Christie wrote.

The state is now scrambling to access rock salt.

"The supplies are tight. We have enough for another storm or two," Dee said Friday night.

Another storm hit the state on Saturday, dumping several inches of snow during the day and night, leaving roadways slick and icy.

Dee said plans now include making multiple trips—as many as four—to transport the salt from Maine to New Jersey. He acknowledged, it will "take us a longer time." With a waiver the state would have made only one trip to get the 40,000 tons of salt in Maine.

Municipalities in the past were able to access the state’s stockpile of salt if needed, but the shortage has made such sharing impossible.

"If a county ran out in the past, we would share salt. Unfortunately, we are not in that position," said Dee. "That’s not an option."

The salt silos in Jersey City were empty. Towns such as Randolph, Fort Lee, and Englewood reportedly had to leave roads untreated. Salting in South Bergen was also curtailed due to its shortage. Monmouth County also ran out of salt as another storm hit on Saturday. Additionally, Morris County was running low and advised its towns to conserve salt.

Middletown, located in Monmouth County, was also very low on salt, according to Township Committeeman and former Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger. He said on Saturday the town was much better off than other surrounding municipalities.

Middletown was mixing its salt with brine. It also resorted to using sand on it roadways. "We’re doing all of those things to try to stretch out our supplies," Scharfenberger said. "It is a little scary the prospect of running out. Plowing can only do so much."

Neither Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) nor Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) responded to requests for comment.

The Obama Administration came under fire for not giving a Jones Act waiver in the wake of the Gulf Oil spill. However, they did grant a waiver after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) requested one to allow fuel supplies to be replenished in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.