By BRANDON LOOMIS
North Country lawmakers on Friday introduced a bill seeking to expand road salt-reduction tests across all state roads in the Adirondack Park.
The proposal — coming after years of complaints about water contamination and recent studies suggesting a link to ruined drinking wells – would also establish a state task force to recommend better winter road safety practices.
“We can’t ignore it anymore,” Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said at a Saranac Lake news conference Friday afternoon. “We need some action on it.”
The bill would direct the state Department of Transportation to test new and environmentally friendlier snow-clearing methods on state roads in the park from 2021 through 2024, and to record and report the results. Prescribed methods would include new technologies such as segmented plow blades conforming to the road surface; varying salt application rates and times for best results; cutting back trees or limbs to allow sunlight onto the roads where legal and appropriate; monitoring road conditions with cameras; and reducing speed limits in winter.
Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said the idea is to expand on tests already occurring in and around Lake George, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid-Wilmington, where the speed limit was 45 mph last winter.
“I think we can all deal with that,” Little said.
Little sponsored the bill, S6824, in the Senate, and Jones sponsored a version in the House, where it had not been posted with a number as of Friday. Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, is a cosponsor.
Local officials and one family that has battled salt contamination gathered at a village office to hear the news and thank the lawmakers for their effort. Jerry Delaney, a Saranac Town Board member, said his town’s aquifer is tainted by road salt.
“We’re going to have to supply water to our residents,” he said.
Among them is Chris Plumadore, who moved into a new home near the state’s salt-storage shed in Saranac three years ago and soon found water from his new well had ruined his appliances and made showering and daily life unpleasant.
“I’ve never been to the ocean,” he told the Explorer, “but everybody says you get out and you have wicked-dry skin. That’s what it’s like.”
His dad bought storage tanks and a special truck bed for hauling water from his home, spending thousands of dollars to deliver water every other day. Ironically, the salt bill for his home water softener has doubled as he has had to pump for two households.
The father, Mark Plumadore, said he is pleased with the bill, and with a new well that the state has drilled but not yet linked to his son’s home. “They’re doing the right things,” he said, though he knows of another Saranac resident whose state-drilled well operated only briefly before beginning to pump salty water.
Besides expanding a winter pilot program parkwide, the legislative proposal would create a 15-member salt task force with appointees from the governor, the attorney general, the Senate, the Assembly, the Adirondack Park Agency, DOT, the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation. The task force would recommend winter practices, crew training programs and public education.
The Adirondack Council praised the proposal.
“We have an emerging clean water crisis in the Adirondacks, stemming from decades of heavy road salt application on our state highways,” Executive Director Willie Janeway said in a written statement. “State leadership is needed now, before this problem gets too big to tackle.”