Salt runs low as big freeze to hit before weekend
EMERGENCY salt supplies to keep the country's roads open will not arrive in time for the onset of the next major freeze, predicted to start tomorrow.
Two ships heading to Ireland from Egypt and Morocco with 20,000 tonnes of salt are not expected to dock in Cork harbour until the middle of next week.
Instead, councils will have to make do with rapidly dwindling supplies to keep the main roads gritted over the weekend.
If they fail to ration supplies, they will quickly run out of salt, sparking a crisis for motorists.
Significant accumulations of snow are expected in most parts of the country over the coming days and up to 10cm of snow may fall before next Monday.
Ironically, 2010 has just been ranked in the top three warmest years since records began in 1850, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
Met Eireann said yesterday the cold spell would start tomorrow, marked by widespread sharp to severe frosts at night, while daytime temperatures would not rise much above zero.
Wintry showers of rain, hail, sleet and possibly snow will affect northern, western and southwestern coastal counties.
These wintry showers will become more widespread across the country over the weekend with a continued risk of thunder and a likelihood of accumulations of snow in places.
The National Roads' Authority (NRA) said 16,000 tonnes of salt were in stock and councils would have to manage their supplies carefully when the expected cold snap swept in.
However, an NRA spokesman said the shipments from Egypt and Morocco would be quickly distributed to local authorities once the ships docked in Cork next week.
While supplies of salt were dwindling due to the massive demand over the past 10 days, the recent thaw had helped the situation.
The NRA spokesman said: "We are competing with other countries for this salt. However, we had placed our order in good time. As long as we manage this week and the supplies come in on time then we should be fine."
The plan was to build up a new stockpile of salt in the region of 100,000 tonnes by the end of January.
But a growing number of local authorities are raising concerns that they will not have enough salt if another big freeze continues past the weekend.
Councils are already under fire for not gritting secondary routes and local roads, due to overtime cutbacks and limited salt supplies being rationed.
Fine Gael transport spokesman Simon Coveney last night called on the Government to order local authorities to prepare a properly co-ordinated emergency plan in advance of the weekend snow.
Meanwhile, water rationing in parts of Dublin from 7pm to 7am could extend until mid-morning for operational reasons, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said last night.