The all-volunteer group, which is still being finalized, will study the costs of alternative de-icers and their impact on roads, bridges, and water quality. It will also examine roads in the Adirondacks to see where sunlight could be used to assist with snow and ice removal. It will identify funding sources for further studies of groundwater contamination, salt toxicity, public education, and training of state and municipal employees.
The group is expected to include members of local and state highway departments, environmental groups, local elected officials, and scientists.
“The towns, the villages, the counties, the state are not talking together at the strategic level the way we think they should,” said Lee Keet of AdkAction.org. “We’re going to try to organize it so they talk to each other regularly and compare notes and techniques and maybe cut back on the costs.”
The road-salt conference was organized by Paul Smith’s College, Adirondack Council and AdkAction.org. The gathering included scientific presentations from Dan Kelting, executive director of the college’s Adirondack Watershed Institute, and Stuart Findlay, an aquatic ecologist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook. David Wieder of the Colorado Department of Transportation talked about alternative approaches to sodium chloride (road salt), including using liquid magnesium chloride as a prime ingredient. New York State DOT representatives talked about different methods they have used in recent years. There were also discussions about the legal aspect of road safety. More than 80 people attended the conference.
“I think we need to figure out a way to take your show on the road,” Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston said.
Studies from Findlay and Kelting on waterways found that road salt is staying in the environment longer than either had expected.
“There are several patterns that we see that makes it obvious that salt does not move quickly out of the environment,” said Findlay, whose work is based in Dutchess County. “It’s somehow staying around, either in the soils, in the shallow groundwater, something like that.”
He found that levels were especially high in August, which is when groundwater is the main source of for many streams and rivers.
“In the summer, most organisms are at their peak activities,” Findlay said. “It’s when the water’s the warmest. For a lot of things, that’s the reproductive season.”
Kelting’s study started two winters ago and is focused on measuring salt concentrations in Adirondack streams near roads. He said that early findings have shown that some streams have concentrations of chloride that are similar to what would be found in an urban environment. He said that could be especially troublesome in the Adirondacks because the environment has a low chloride content naturally.
“So when we increase the chloride, we double it, we triple it, we would hypothesize scientifically that that would have a negative impact, and that negative impact happens at a much lower chloride concentration than happens in southern New York or Massachusetts or somewhere else,” Kelting said.
Many participants seem to agree that the road-salt issue concerns people with a wide range of interests, from car owners to environmentalists. But to make changes to the current policies will still be difficult.
“It’s going to be hard,” Keet said. “We will be asking DOT to change some of their road-design standards. We’ll be asking the towns and villages to start thinking about changing their current practices of using sand and salt. We’ll be asking the environmental groups to give up on the idea that you don’t cut a tree, especially if it’s within the existing right-of-way, where it’s legally possible to cut the trees. Nobody should object if the net gain is safety and reduced use of salt.”
Follow-up actions for the working group will include engaging the Common Ground Alliance, the Adirondack Research Consortium, regional educational institutions, and the North Country Regional Economic Development. A five-year plan to adopt new technologies was suggested, including additional test runs to try techniques used elsewhere, including those used by Colorado.
Photo provided by AdkAction.org.