Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Is NY actually committed to reducing road salt?

road salt truck

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

After months of work – and months of waiting – members of the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force are growing frustrated the public has not seen their recommendations.

A handful of members I interviewed last week expressed impatience with the state’s slow pace finalizing an initial report that will summarize science and best practices and suggest a path to reducing the toll of road salt use on Adirondack waters.

The long-awaited report has been years in the making and it’s still not clear how long we will be waiting to see it.

While state officials said “finalization of the report remains a priority,” task force members said the delays are raising concerns about state agencies’ commitment to tackling road salt pollution. Recommendations will include pilot projects and potential legislative and funding ideas. Members also said they were disappointed recommendations weren’t out in time to be considered during budget negotiations.

“It’s ridiculous,” Assemblymember Billy Jones said at the Adirondack Research Conference earlier this month. “We’ve got to get that report out.”

Dam Safety News 

Tomorrow is National Dam Safety Awareness Day and the state last week announced funding from the Water Quality Improvement Project grant program will be eligible for repairing high and intermediate hazard dams.

Local governments that own dams can get up to $5 million for repairs if money from the state’s $4 billion environmental bond act is allocated.

I’m not sure how to celebrate National Dam Safety Awareness Day but reporting on the safety of Adirondack dams over the past year gave me a better appreciation of the complexity of dam safety. I started to think of it as an invisible risk landscape, because the threats dams face are significant but also remote. On the one hand, dam failure can be catastrophic. On the other, the events are rare enough to put in the back of the mind.

Regulators and dam owners have to prepare not for typical storms but the atypical storms that could spell doom for a structure that otherwise did its job for decade after decade. A lot goes on behind the scenes to make sure those structures are safe.

Clean Water Act

Water advocates and conservationists spent much of last year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act. Many of those same people spent the end of last week bemoaning a U.S. Supreme Court decision that substantially narrows what wetlands garner protection under the law. 

The decision said that only wetlands “adjoining” a protected waterbody – not those separated by roads, manmade berms and other natural barriers – could be regulated under the act. Some estimates suggest as much as half of the acreage of previously-regulated wetlands could fall outside the court’s new parameters. Legal experts also worry about what the decision could mean as a precedent in future environmental law cases.

Given state and Adirondack Park wetlands protections, it’s not clear to me what effect the decision will have in the Adirondacks, but conservationists are certainly concerned it will harm wetlands that serve critical ecological functions like flood control, bird habitat and much more.

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

This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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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.


One Response

  1. JJ says:

    The problem I have encountered is on less treated roads speed remains same or worse. The intuitive adjustment to road conditions is not being made. While traveling at or near speed limit cars and trucks tailgate creating unsafe conditions. I’m all for moderation of salt, but driving speed in poor conditions needs to be part of the process.

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