Task Force’s Study of Salt Reduction in Adirondack Park Delays Action Protecting Waters, Health Advocates Say

Lake George MIrror

 

Legislation co-sponsored by Lake George’s representative in the New York State Senate, Republican Betty Little, calls for creation of a 15-member task force charged with

recommending ways to reduce road salt on Adirondack highways by Sept. 1, 2021, almost two years from now.

 

Salt is causing serious public health environmental impacts throughout the region. If approved and implemented, the three-year pilot program could lead to dramatically altered road maintenance policies across New York.

 

But a leading environmentalist, while applauding such efforts, says there is no need for further study because proven reduction practices are already in place around Lake George.

 

We’ve got a model that works,” said Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky. “We’ve got evidence that shows we’re reducing road salt 25- 30 percent. Why take a step back? We would encourage them (the state) to start implementing this model right now.”

 

The proposed law, called the Randy Preston Salt Reduction Act, is named for a late Town of Wilmington Supervisor who championed the cause. Randy Preston passed away earlier this year.

 

The bill’s co-sponsor, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said he recently visited a Saranac family whose life has been devastated by excess road salt polluting the local aquifer. People can’t drink, bathe or do laundry and appliances have been ruined in their brand-new home, he said.

 

They have to trailer in water every two days,” he said. “There are neighbors experiencing the same problems. I’ve seen it first-hand. Action has to be taken. We have to do this. We just have to educate people. Once the governor knows more about it, I cannot see why he would not help implement these policies.”

 

However, Navitsky said Warren County, Lake George, Hague and several other municipalities in the Lake George watershed are already using specially-designed new plows and technology that limit the need for road salt. Such equipment has been provided by grants from The Fund for Lake George.

 

Live-edge plows with six, two-foot metal plates on tension springs do a better job of clearing snow from uneven road surfaces. Also, computers inside trucks read outside temperatures so drivers know when and where salt is most needed instead of applying a steady heavy stream.

 

In addition, state and local highways crews sometimes apply a 23 percent sodium chloride brine solution to roads prior to anticipated storms. When snow falls, it activates salt in the brine, which causes melting.

 

This has proven more effective than applying hard salt, much of which bounces off the road and harms trees and other vegetation along the shoulders. A great deal of salt also washes into streams and water bodies such as Lake George, causing ecological problems.

 

The state Department of Transportation is conducting pilot salt reduction studies on Route 9N from the Village of Lake George to Tongue Mountain, and on Route 86 from Wilmington to Lake Placid.

 

But we haven’t seen all the (new) practices implemented,” Navitsky said.

 

DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey said, “Pilot programs to explore the potential for road salt reductions in snow and ice operations are proceeding as planned. While providing for the safety of the traveling public, these pilot programs include use of brine where conditions are favorable and experiments with sand-salt mixtures. The DOT will continue these important projects for the next several seasons in order to allow for sufficient data collection and

meaningful results.”

 

A DOT press release says, “In collaboration with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the new salt management practices being implemented by the state are intended to help protect the environment as well as encourage commercial and private land-owners to implement similar reductions in their salt utilization.”

 

If approved, the task force would be comprised of four governor’s appointees, three each by the senate and assembly, and one each by the attorney general, DOT, DEC, state Health Department and Adirondack Park Agency.

 

We’ve seen in Lake George a real effort to reduce the amount of salt going into the lake,” said Dan MacEntee, a spokesman for Senator Little. “The point of doing this is to make it more region-wide. It’s an effort that will save money and the environment.”

 

November 12, 2019, Lake George Mirror | A recent study from the Adirondack Watershed Institute of Paul Smith's College showed that of nearly 500 wells it tested throughout the Adirondack Park, 64 percent of wells downhill from state roads had sodium levels exceeding the federally recommended health limit of 20 parts per million (ppm). A portion of those wells also exceeded the 250 ppm recommended health limit for chloride, a component of salt, with some measuring around 1,000 ppm.

 

Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said, “Having a state-appointed task force recommending action would take us a step beyond conservation groups and local

governments, who have carried the ball on this so far. It would provide the push needed to get state agencies to spend more time and money addressing the problem. We wish this were happening more quickly, as the problem is large and spreading. Each additional year that

passes without corrective action will make recovery a little more difficult.”

 

By using new types of plows and technology, the Town of Lake George has reduced salt usage from 2,200 to 1,700 tons. At $75 per ton, this represents a $37,500 savings, Navitsky said.

 

Also, trucks don’t need to make as many trips, which saves on employee overtime costs.

 

We don’t need to study this,” Navitsky said. “We’re glad this issue is being addressed, but we believe we already have answers here.”

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