Nonprofit aims to build ‘culture of support’ for salt reduction
By Zachary Matson
AdkAction is launching a campaign to lift public understanding of road salt use and its consequences, setting the stage for a much wider effort proposed by the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force
The Keeseville-based nonprofit hopes to bolster local highway departments working to limit salt use by spreading messages about how road salt can threaten aquatic life, contaminate drinking water and damage road infrastructure and vehicles. It also plans to educate private salt users – such as businesses and contractors – about ways to rein in salt usage.
“They’re going to need a culture of support from residents and visitors to keep going,” said Sawyer Bailey, AdkAction’s executive director. Bailey announced the campaign at the annual Adirondack Champlain Regional Salt Summit in Lake George on Oct. 3.
As part of its road salt reduction efforts, AdkAction also convenes local highway departments at the beginning and end of winter seasons to share plans for further minimizing their salt use. The group is working with the Ausable River Association to help communities track water quality in tandem with road salt programs.
The nonprofit spoke to residents and visitors at various events this summer and conducted focus groups. Bailey said while most people were aware that salt pollution was causing problems in many lakes, they were less familiar with how salt has infiltrated groundwater and drinking supplies.
“They didn’t know the full extent of the issue,” she said. “They didn’t make the connection to drinking water.”
The campaign includes a website with information on best practices, background on salt use and resources to get involved at the local level. It also offers advice on how to limit home salt use.
AdkAction produced a handful of public service announcements it plans to roll out in the coming weeks. The playful videos ask viewers to consider places one wouldn’t dump salt such as buckets used to clean cars or bottles of filtered backcountry water.
“Salt in our water shouldn’t be normal,” the campaign implores viewers.
A bigger campaign?
The salt reduction task force in its September report recommended state agencies establish a public outreach campaign to “instill a shared understanding” of effective winter road management and the impacts of salt use.
The campaign aims to do that with education opportunities for different audiences, including the driving public, highway crews and the elected officials who determine highway budgets and feel the political pressure of local residents.
Task force members have also raised the importance of shifting the public’s expectations of winter road conditions, urging the use of snow tires and greater caution. One pilot project proposed in the report would establish “low salt” or “no salt” areas that posted seasonal speeding warnings and messages about inclement weather and hazardous conditions.
Kevin Hajos, Warren County highway superintendent and a task force member, at the salt summit emphasized the importance of educating the public and urged people to “make your coffee at home” when the winter weather is bad.
“The reality today is people feel they need to be able to drive on bare roads,” Hajos said. “That’s why we put down the salt we do.”