Op-Ed: NJ Playing Blame Game Over Salt Shortage

We’ve recently seen several news stories levying blame for the New Jersey road salt shortage. Unfortunately, many of these repeat a false narrative that the American maritime industry played a role — a storyline that strays considerably from fact. The sheer volume of inaccurate statements calls for the record to be set straight.


Like most other countries, the United States has a maritime law ensuring that cargo moving between U.S. ports be on vessels owned by American companies, crewed by American mariners and built in American shipyards. This law — known as the Jones Act — provides for the safe flow of domestic commerce and ensures national capacity to build our own Navy and move needed materials during times of war.


The Jones Act is critical to our economy. A recent government study noted that U.S. military strategy relies on the use of U.S.-flagged vessels and crews. Today, more than 40,000 U.S. vessels support nearly 500,000 American jobs and more than $90 billion in annual economic impact. The industry moves close to 888 million tons of cargo annually, which plays an important role in relieving congestion on the nation’s crowded roads and railways.


In New Jersey, the domestic maritime industry is particularly robust, with nearly 11,000 citizens contributing almost $2 billion annually to the state’s economy, including more than $787 million in worker income, ranking New Jersey among the nation’s top 10 maritime states.


This serves as a clear reminder that the maritime industry should be hailed by New Jersey officials, not wrongly faulted.


Yet, several weeks ago, the state Department of Transportation found itself unprepared for the winter weather that the state and the nation have experienced this year. Recognizing that a foreign shipment from the usual source of road salt — South America — would not reach New Jersey quickly enough, officials scrambled for options.


Sensing a potential public relations disaster as the state would soon run out of salt, New Jersey transportation officials identified a stockpile in Maine. They were told then by the U.S. Department of Transportation that U.S. law required that it be shipped by a U.S.-owned, -crewed, and -flagged vessel. Despite this guidance, state officials opted to publicly promote a story that a foreign-flagged vessel was available in Maine and willing to haul the salt to New Jersey, and, if not for the Jones Act, that ship could sail immediately. However, there is no confirmation that the foreign vessel was willing to move the salt. The ship left port the next day — which would signal it had no intention to move that salt.

It was the American maritime industry that rallied, activating a vessel to retrieve the salt and delivering it to New Jersey on Monday evening. Even more curiously, on Monday, the same day the salt arrived, the New Jersey transportation commissioner misinformed the media that the shipment was “still in Maine,” and that “it could be three weeks before it gets here.” This reckless statement is not true.


The DOT simply waited too long to order more salt, then found itself in a public relations bind and needing a scapegoat. With just a little planning, this situation could have been prevented. It is important that New Jerseyans know that the domestic maritime industry acted quickly to help resupply the state and that this industry plays a foundational role assuring our country’s national, economic and homeland security every day of the year. The reporting of the state’s salt shortage was too heavily tilted toward casting false blame on entire industries to compensate for planning deficiencies or relying on one version of the facts to tell a story. It’s time to set the record straight. These are the facts. When the ice melts, they will still be the facts, and America’s domestic maritime industry will continue to proudly serve the state and the nation.


Tom Allegretti is chairman of the American Maritime Partnership, a coalition of members in the domestic maritime industry. Have an opinion? Go to nj.com/opinion.