Thursday, December 16, 2021

Hochul names road salt task force members

road salt truck

Overdue panel charged with preventing further pollution

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday named the members of a promised state task force charged with studying road salt use in the Adirondacks.

The 10 overdue appointees announced by the governor will join representatives from the state Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and Adirondack Park Agency as they set out to review current salt use practices and make recommendations to minimize future use.

The governor’s direct nominees include former DEC Commissioner Joe Martens; Adirondack Watershed Institute Executive Director Dan Kelting; Megan Phillips, vice president of conservation at the Adirondack Council; and Kristine Stepeneck, a professor at the University of Vermont.

Legislative leaders were also able to recommend appointments. The Senate Democrats nominated Phil Sexton, a consultant working with towns across the park interested in reducing salt use, and Robert Kafin, a longtime environmental lawyer in the Adirondacks.

The Assembly Democrats recommended Brittany Christenson, executive director of ADK Action, which has advocated for nearly a decade around reducing salt use in the park, and Gerald Delaney, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board. 

The Senate Republicans recommended Kevin Hajos, the superintendent of public works for Warren County, and the Assembly Republicans recommended Tracy Eldridge, the Hamilton County superintendent of highways.

“Protecting our environment is a high priority to my administration and nominations to this task force are long overdue,” Hochul said. “I have no doubt that this group of individuals will work tirelessly to protect our state from the adverse effects of road salt. We look forward to seeing this group finally convene and make progress in preventing further pollution to our waterways and our environment.”

The task force, though, is already behind on its work. The bipartisan legislation, which was signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo over a year ago, required the task force to submit an initial report by Dec. 1.

That report is supposed to include an overall assessment of the “nature, scope and magnitude of associated impacts of road salt” on surface water and groundwater in the Adirondack Park. The report should also include a review of current road management practices; initial recommendations to improve road salt use; an estimate of costs and liability considerations associated with changed road management practices; and proposed road salt reduction targets. The panel is also charged with recommending a road salt pilot program that can be used to monitor the impacts of new road management practices.

Clean water advocates hope the report will serve as a comprehensive source of information on the challenges of road salt contamination in the park and a roadmap to minimizing the environmental and health impacts of that salt use. 

While road salt contamination has been a concern of Adirondack advocates for decades, recent studies of groundwater wells have suggested state road crews are the major contributor to contamination in the park. The state has implemented a handful of salt reduction pilot programs, including along the western shore of Lake George, but advocates have called on state officials to do more to reduce their salt use. 

Some local municipalities, especially ones clustered near Lake George, have expanded the use of brine mixes, close-edge plows and data tracking systems to reduce their use of salt. The Town of Hague, for example, has reduced its salt use by around two-thirds inthe past six years.

The task force will work to establish another pilot program in the Adirondacks.

“Road salt has caused irrevocable damage to our environment and waterways, contaminating drinking water supply for homeowners for far too long,” Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, said. “It is great news that the governor has approved the appointments to the Adirondack road salt reduction task force so that the state can implement a pilot plan and test program.”

A state highway truck dumps road salt in Tupper Lake. Photo by Mike Lynch

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

6 Responses

  1. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Time to dust off the tire chains.

  2. Joan Grabe says:

    And if snow tires and tire chains are what it takes – and it will probably take decades – to restore the water quality and the vegetation and the salt intrusion into wells so be it ! Why don’t we let these appointees get together and come up with a plan we all can live with ? Or one we can learn to live with and preserve this precious environment.

    • Bill Ott says:

      I can see salt eventually dissipating in the wells, but not in the soil. The contamination may remain even longer than the very roads the salt was meant to make safe for the drivers who eventually be buried in some salt free cemetery. Making a road safe for one whole day at the expense of contaminating soil for hundreds or thousands of years just does not seem right. I am often wrong, but think intelligent people in our advanced civilization would line up behind Joan Grabe at the nearest auto parts store for tires and chains, and say they will make do without stupidity.

  3. David Gibson says:

    Thank you, Zachary. Important announcement. These are good appointments to the Road Salt Task force, overall. For instance, appointee Dan Kelting of the Adk Watershed Institute teamed with ADK Action over ten years ago to provide extensive data about the relationship between high saline concentrations in Adk lakes proximate to salted roadways. A task force like this one needs a common baseline of information from which to start its work. Thanks to the Adk Watershed Institute, It has that. In the year ahead the task force needs to be communicative about its work – ie. transparent in releasing minutes and results of its deliberations.

  4. Steve Stofelano jr says:

    Glad to see Hamilton County represented with Tracy Eldredge, a capable and informed representative on this urgent dilemma!

  5. Tom Paine says:

    What we do not see on this committee is a representative of the NYS trial attorneys association. Why? Concern for the amount of salt being spread onto the roads is a very legitimate concern in NYS. But, where does this come down with public safety and liability law? The trial attorney sharks are already circling and salivating at the reducing of road salt, as it opens up the flood gates for lawsuits against the state, county, town and village governments.

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