COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently announced an $11.5 million settlement with Morton Salt Inc. and Cargill Inc. to resolve allegations that the companies conspired with each other, causing state and local governments to pay higher prices on the rock salt used to make icy roads safer for travelers.
Under the settlement, Morton and Cargill will pay a combined $11.5 million, most of which will be distributed to local government entities throughout Ohio, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and the Ohio Turnpike Commission.
“This settlement is good for Ohio taxpayers and the local and state governments who serve them,” Attorney General DeWine said. “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.”
“Ohio taxpayers and consumers can have confidence that my office will investigate and take action to ensure a competitive marketplace and safeguard taxpayer dollars,” DeWine added.
The Attorney General filed an antitrust lawsuit against Morton and Cargill on March 21, 2012, in Tuscarawas County alleging that the two companies divided up the Ohio rock salt market between themselves, agreeing not to compete with each other and driving up rock salt prices for about a decade, ending in 2010.
The result of the alleged conspiracy, according to the Attorney General, was that the Ohio Department of Transportation and other government entities statewide paid above-market prices for rock salt.
Rock salt is the primary method used by the state, counties, cities, and municipalities in Ohio to keep roads, highways, and bridges clear of ice.
Each year, the Ohio Department of Transportation invites companies to submit bids for supplying rock salt in the state. Bids are separated by county, and public purchasers (such as counties or municipalities) can choose to participate in the program and purchase salt under the terms of the ODOT contract for their particular county.
Cargill and Morton are two of the major producers of rock salt in the U.S. and the only two that mine rock salt in Ohio for commercial sale.
According to the Attorney General’s lawsuit, during the alleged conspiracy period, Cargill and Morton predetermined which company would win particular bids in Ohio, thus allocating customers between themselves and driving up prices.
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.
Under the settlement, Morton and Cargill’s $11.5 million payment will be distributed by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
Local government entities will be contacted by the Attorney General’s Office and asked to submit documentation reflecting their rock salt purchases from Cargill or Morton between 2008 and 2010, the period of time for which the state was permitted to seek recovery in this case. Agencies with questions about the settlement may contact the Attorney General’s Antitrust Section at 614-466-4328.
A copy of the settlement agreement and a copy of the Attorney General’s 2012 lawsuit are available on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.