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Legislators address road salt shortage

Columbus -- A lawmaker panel has agreed to pay an expert witness for his testimony in a lawsuit alleging anti-trust activities by two salt companies while at the same time approving the purchase of additional road salt from one of the latter.

The somewhat unusual combination of items on the Feb. 10 Controlling Board agenda drew questions from two Democratic members, but both were approved without objection.

The board OK'd a request from the attorney general's office to pay up to $125,000 to an Indiana man to provide "statistical and economic consulting services... as well as expert testimony" in a lawsuit against Morton Salt and Cargill, the only companies mining salt in the state.

Howard Marvel, a longtime professor at Ohio State University, will be paid $600 an hour for the task, according to documents.

The attorney general alleges the two companies divvied up the state and manipulated road salt prices in a scheme that cost state and local governments $50 million or more.

The companies deny the allegations.

Also Feb. 10, the Controlling Board signed off on nearly $1 million for the purchase and transport of road salt, thanks to "weather events [that] resulted in a severe shortage of sodium chloride" in certain Ohio Department of Transportation districts.

-- Marc Kovac, Capital bureau

Chief of embattled police promoted

Cleveland -- The chief of a Cleveland police department under investigation for a chase involving more than 100 officers, 137 shots fired and two apparently unarmed people killed has been promoted.

Mayor Frank Jackson administered the oath Feb. 10 to Chief Michael McGrath as safety director in charge of police and fire.

He replaces Martin Flask, who is retiring as safety director after a police career that began in 1973. He will become a special aide to the mayor.

The deputy chief of field operations, Calvin Williams, was appointed chief.

The department is under federal investigation for alleged excessive force. And a county grand jury is investigating the 13 officers who fired shots during the November 2012 chase that left two people dead.

Critics called the shooting a racially motivated execution.

-- Associated Press

Two power plants closing early

Akron -- FirstEnergy Corp. is planning to close two Northeast Ohio power plants earlier than initially planned.

The Plain Dealer reports that the utility will close its Eastlake and downtown Cleveland Lake Shore plants this fall, rather than next year.

The move should lower the cost of power in Northeast Ohio because the company has been collecting up to $3.7 million a month to keep the plants ready to generate electricity when needed.

PJM Interconnection -- the non-profit company responsible for maintaining the stability of the grid in Ohio and 12 other states -- on Feb. 6 approved the shutdowns a year ahead of schedule.

All 165 employees will be offered jobs at other facilities.

-- Associated Press

Bitter Ohio winter

affecting growers

Columbus -- The bitterly cold winter is making things tougher for Ohio growers -- and that could translate to higher food prices later in the year.

The sub-zero temperatures have caused Ohio wine-grape, blackberry and peach growers to lose much of this year's crop, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

The value of the crops lost to the cold weather hasn't been determined. Laboratories are analyzing grapevines, blackberry canes and strawberry plants for damage. And, of course, the winter is not over yet.

Mitch Lynd, owner of Lynd Fruit Farm east of Columbus, tells the newspaper that he likely lost most of the fruit on his 3,000 peach trees when temperatures fell well below zero.

Local consumers could end up paying more, but global competition tends to keep prices down.

-- Associated Press

Schools may get more time for tests

Columbus -- Ohio education officials say they are considering giving schools more time to administer state achievement tests this spring because students have missed so many days to bad weather.

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton tells The Columbus Dispatch that there have been some "preliminary discussions" about giving schools more time to prepare students for the critical tests.

State officials are looking into adding another week to a three-week window that schools have to administer the tests for students in third to eighth grades. Schools currently can give the tests between April 21 and May 9.

In some districts, students have missed 10 or more days because of bad weather.

Officials are also looking into adding calamity days this year.

-- Associated Press

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