Monday, November 27, 2017

Adirondacks Come Together Over Road Salt Use

Conservation organizations and communities are looking at a variety of options for reducing road salt, including improved technology on salt trucks, improved monitoring of road conditions, and the use of alternatives to salt.

David Wick, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission, said the towns of Lake George, Bolton, and Queensbury and the village of Lake George will experiment with using a brine — a solution of road salt and water — this winter. Brine is applied to roads prior to winter storms to reduce the formation of ice and hence the amount of salt that must be applied after the storm.

The third annual salt summit held earlier this fall was sponsored by the Fund for Lake George and brought together property maintenance contractors, highway superintendents and the public employees who apply de-icing agents to roads, driveways and parking lots, along with environmentalists, scientists, and public officials.

Eric Siy, executive director of the Fund for Lake George, said at a conference in October that thirty years of research has shown that the lake is getting more salty.

“It’s an issue that has gone unaddressed for literally decades, and now is the time [to address it],” Siy said. “With the science we now have in hand, we can solve the problem.”

Every winter, thirteen tons of road salt are applied per lane-mile to roadways in the Lake George watershed, a total of nine thousand tons a year, according to the Fund. The amount of salt in the lake nearly tripled between 1980 and 2009.

Jim Sutherland, a science adviser for the Fund, said if all road salting had ended in 2009, it still would have taken until 2040 for salt levels in the watershed to return to normal.

Read more on this year’s salt summit.

North Elba snowplow workers tend to the sand/salt road de-icer in Lake Placid. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

11 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Thank you Mike for writing about this. I am a recent resident to the high peaks area and within the last year was astonished with the amount of salt that is put down on the roads up here. Putting aside the massive environmental impact to water ways, trees, wildlife( and it’s a big issue), what about the economic impact?

    Currently we have a govonor that is concerned with the economic growth and stability of rural NY. Has anyone in the state taken the time to analize how much money the excessive use of salt is destroying the average persons vechiles living in the ADK park and upstate areas? I been here for 3 winters and I won’t even drive behind a car or truck that wheel wells are completely rotted through. Last winter on my way to Saranac Lake, I pulled over to help a man with a 2005 Dodge truck that the motor mounts rotted out, along with the frame, that allowed the engine to literally break off and rest on the road. The irony that the owner bought a diesel engine and it only had 160k miles on it, for an engine that should last 300k. The frame and entire truck was completely rotted, the engine was the only thing worth saving.

    Just to send my point home-You have tax payers, buying brand new vechiles, that end up lasting less than half the car/trucks expected life( at least when compared to all other states that don’t use excessive salt). Look across to VT where they don’t have the rusting car issues that we have.

    It’s a hidden tax on the people who are working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet and they are having to buy new trucks and cars 3-4 years earlier than other states. The state also has to replace their vechile inventory( State Police, DEC, DOT, etc). Does anyone have an idea of how much this is costing the NY tax payer??? Also the salt is eating away at the roads( more replacement of black top surfaces), guard rails, bridges before their expected, normal replacement or repair schedules.

    I understand that the arguement for ‘safe roads’ and less accidents with the use of salt, but how safe are the roads when brake lines are failing from rust issues( real issue, ask any local garage). The replacement cost/waste to the average replacement cycle of vechiles and infrastructure is enormous. We could use that money to employ more plows and salt replacement technology and likely still save a massive amount at the consumer and state levels to buy better snow tires.

    The state should look into saving our cars/trucks/ bridges/roadways by stopping the excessive salt use and at the same time it will do wonders for our streams, lakes, rivers and wildlife.

    • Balian the Cat says:

      One edit, Chris:

      “Currently we have a governor that WISHES TO APPEAR concerned with the economic growth and stability of rural NY.”

    • john says:

      I regularly drive in Vermont in the winter and I can say that I exhale when I reach New York. Iced up roads without salt claim many cars in a sudden and violent manner. I would rather deal with a slow rot than fast ditch. Rust from salt may be a hidden tax, but it keeps me alive.

      • David Thomas-Train says:

        What also concerns me is the increasing number of closures of private and municipal wells due to chloride contamination.Road salt builds up harmfully in the environment and negatively affects human health.

  2. David Thomas-Train says:

    Road salt is an environmental time bomb ticking away. At he rates that it is applied in New York, it builds up year after year, negatively affecting the biology of water courses and the safety of wells . This does not include the hugely expensive damage to infrastructure, from vehicles , to bridges, to parking garages. These overall risks are immense, and it is good news that alternatives and reductions are being pursue by researchers and policy makers. There may, however, be no magic bullet solution other than eliminating chloride compounds use of abrasives ( which are destructive, but in my view ,less so) and slowing down on winter roads.

  3. Boreas says:

    I personally would like to see salt usage within the Park limited to interstates and within village limits. Outside of the villages, sand on curves, steep hills, and intersections only. While this would likely have a negative effect on tourism and trucking, it would likely help with some types of environmental damage while increasing others – namely stream siltification. It would also likely increase road damage due to more tire studs and chains being used. In addition, people who do a significant amount of driving would likely switch to less fuel-efficient 4WD/AWD vehicles adding yet more expense to residents.

    There is certainly no slam-dunk answer to the problem within the Park – hence, the continued use of, toxic, expensive road treatments for many decades.

    • John Warren says:

      Reducing road salt is the key. Though I’d let road engineers sympathetic to the need and environmental scientists decide where and how to do that.

      There are lots of alternatives and mitigating practices that can also be applied. None of this has to limit the current drive-ability of our roads to be effective.

  4. Cristine Meixner says:

    The key sentence here is “The amount of salt in the lake nearly tripled between 1980 and 2009.” 1980 is when the DOT instituted its “bare roads” policy (which it now won’t admit to, but I have a long memory) because of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. From beginning driver to age 28 I drove on winter roads in the state’s northern counties that were covered with packed snow. They were not inherently dangerous because of the packed snow, and I remember being able to drive almost at the speed limit most of the time (slowing down of course for curves and turns). The only time I found them dangerous was when the warm started coming and they became slushy; you really had to slow down then. That could be fixed by plowing the slush off, and sanding and salting the roads during that short time each year. For those who fear visitors would not come if the roads are not perfectly clear, I don’t think that is the case. Winter roads these days are ugly; winter roads back then were beautiful — you were part of the gorgeous scenery — and after all isn’t that one of the reasons visitors come here? To slow down and enjoy the beauty? They are coming to the wild; let it look wild.

    • Paul says:

      We could go back to icing the roads and using sleighs too but that is then this is now. Also, warming and cooling in the winter is now a fact of how the climate is in the Adirondacks. I don’t think there is just a short period anymore, that happens all winter. In fact I remember that even in the 70s. The only thing constant about Adirondack weather – change. The 1932 Olympics were in jeopardy due to a lack of snow, just like in 1980.

    • Befuddle says:

      I agree with Christine Meitner. I also remember the DOT “ bare roads” policy and thought it a crazy idea at the time. I would much more prefer to drive on snow packed roads. The salt that is applied now only make for driving through dangerous slush a great deal of the time. Also getting down to the bare pavement attributes to the “ black ice “ problem. Roads were safer before they decided to use salt ALL the time.

  5. Charlie S says:

    Chris says: “The frame and entire truck was completely rotted.”

    Just think what that stuff does to the roots of plants and trees whose components are more softer that steel. We’re too short term in our thinking and everything is about a quick fix or the insurance companies. In the winters around the Capital region the private salt spreaders come out in full force and heavily dose up Walmart and other private parking lots if even a trace of snow or ice is predicted. Insurance companies is why. They’re afraid of lawsuits if someone slips or falls.Or a car accident. I just don’t see too much good with salt except where it conveniences man only.

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