POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 3, 2014
NEW YORK » The business model for the Atlantic Salt Co. on Staten Island basically boils down to passing the salt.
It is passed from mammoth cargo ships that pull up at the terminal on the Kill Van Kull, just off New York Harbor, to a huge mound in Atlantic's yard, from which front-loading trucks pass it on to tractor-trailers, ready to move it further along to local municipalities, where it is spread on icy and snowy roadways.
Brian DeForest, terminal manager for Atlantic, which is in the New Brighton section and which supplies most of New York City's road salt, surveyed that very operation in progress on a recent weekday morning.
"It's been a good year, so far," he said, meaning that there has been lots of snow and ice, which has increased the demand for salt. The coming week looked to be promising, too: On Sunday, the National Weather Service forecast called for several inches of snowfall, to begin by Monday morning.
Atlantic sells salt to the public for $74 a ton, with a bulk discount for contract sales. A cargo ship, the Key Frontier, had arrived loaded with 61,000 metric tons of salt from Chile. The ship needed three weeks of travel time, and would take a week of unloading to rid its seven deep holds of salt.
Two tall cranes were at work, each lowering a bucket - really, a huge set of steel jaws - into the ship's hold and scooping up 30 tons of salt at a time, then dropping it on the mound.
"That's called free-bailing, when they're just dropping down and grabbing full buckets from the hold," DeForest said, adding that when the supply gets low, the crane lowers a small front-end loader down to gather the remaining salt into a pile to be scooped out.
The salt was a coarse, granular, peach-colored grade, which DeForest said is typical for salt from Chile. Mexican salt tends to be very white, Irish salt is brownish and salt from the Dominican Republic has a green hue, he said.
Atlantic Salt starts each winter with a small mountain range of salt in the yard. During a cold, snowy winter, much of that supply gets bought up and more ships are brought in to replenish it.
So far this winter, Atlantic has sold 300,000 tons, DeForest said.
A spokeswoman for the city's Department of Sanitation said that the agency used 346,112 tons of road salt last winter, and began this winter with roughly 250,000 tons. The department has used about 250,000 tons of salt so far this season, and replenishes its supply as needed.
On busy days at Atlantic, which has been operating since 1977 at this location, a former gypsum plant, trucks start to line up at 3:30 a.m., and the loading continues until 8 p.m. Tractor-trailers can hold 40 tons, and there are also pickup trucks with spreaders on the back, usually owned by landscapers or smaller maintenance companies.
The terminal can load up about 60 trucks in an hour. Most of them have contracted with Atlantic to deliver to New York City and other local governments in Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island, as well as in Westchester and Rockland Counties.
Atlantic's other local terminal, in Port Newark, handles many New Jersey municipalities.
Today, one by one, trucks inched forward in a looping line toward a mountain of salt roughly 60 feet tall. A pair of front-end loaders filled the trucks, after which they pulled up to be weighed.
A no-nonsense cashier handled the transactions, through a window with a cage across it.
"Some of these truck drivers are pretty tough, but she's tougher," said DeForest. "She tells the drivers, 'The cage is there to protect you.' And it is, believe me."
Inside the trailer, DeForest asked the cashier if she felt like speaking to a reporter.
"Oh God," she said, flipping her sweatshirt hood over her head and spinning her chair back to face the window, revealing a handwritten sign taped to the back. "Out to Lunch," it said.
Corey Kilgannon, New York Times