$11.5 million settlement over rock salt

COLUMBUS — Morton, Inc. and Cargill, Inc. have agreed to a $11.5 million settlement with the state of Ohio over allegations that they worked together to drive up rock salt prices for the Ohio Department of Transportation and other government agencies across the state. The two companies allegedly agreed not to compete and instead, split Ohio’s rock salt market between each other for over a decade, finishing in 2010, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s lawsuit.

“This settlement is good for Ohio taxpayers and the local and state governments who serve them,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement released by his office. DeWine filed an antitrust lawsuit against both companies on March 21, 2012, in Tuscarawas County. According the lawsuit, Ohio government agencies paid above-market prices for rock salt.

“I am pleased that Morton and Cargill have agreed to resolve this lawsuit and will be returning money to local agencies and governments who buy rock salt to help keep Ohio’s roads clear during the winter months,” DeWine said in his statement. “Ohio taxpayers and consumers can have confidence that my office will investigate and take action to ensure a competitive marketplace and safeguard taxpayer dollars.”

“We’re not sure yet what will be happening,” Miami County Engineer Paul Huelskamp said. According to Huelskamp, Miami County made purchases from Morton, Inc. and Cargill, Inc. during the period of time that the state of Ohio is allowed to seek recovery for, which is between 2008 and 2010. Huelskamp explained that Miami County usually sets aside between $200,000 and $300,000 each year for salt.

“We have not as of yet been contacted by the Attorney General’s office,” Huelskamp said. Miami County will have to submit documentation of their rock salt purchases from Morton, Inc. or Cargill, Inc. that occurred between 2008 and 2010.

“We are hopeful,” Piqua City Manager Gary Huff said. It is still unclear if the city of Piqua will benefit from this settlement.

The city of Piqua approved the purchase of rock salt from Morton Inc. for $106.57 per ton for up to 2,000 tons in 2008, according to the minutes of the Piqua City Commission meeting for Sept. 15, 2008. According to the memorandum included in the Sept. 15, 2008 minutes, the cost $106.57 per ton for rock salt was 103 percent higher than what the city paid for rock salt in 2007 due to a “severe global salt shortage.” Morton, Inc. was the low bidder.

The city of Piqua also reportedly purchased rock salt from Cargill, Inc. in 2010, for $61.78 per ton for up to 2,000 tons, according to the minutes of the July 6, 2010, Piqua City Commission meeting. Cargill, Inc. received a contract from Piqua for rock salt again in 2009 for $61.78 per ton for up to 2,000 tons, according to the minutes of the July 20, 2009, Piqua City Commission meeting. Cargill, Inc. was the low bidder for each of those times.