Hochul closing in on appointing delayed road salt task force
By Zachary Matson
A mandated panel to study road salt contamination in the Adirondack Park missed the Dec. 1 deadline to produce its first report, because the body still has not been formed.
But state officials in recent weeks indicated that all of the road salt task force’s 14 members have been recommended and are undergoing final review before appointment by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The appointees will come from nominees of state legislative leaders and the governor and will include representatives from the state Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and the Adirondack Park Agency.
“Governor Hochul is committed to protecting access to clean water and we are working to complete necessary reviews of recommended individuals for the Adirondack Road Salt Task Force,” a Hochul spokesperson told the Adirondack Explorer Monday. He would not provide a timeline for finalizing the appointments.
The task force was supposed to be well into its work by now. The bipartisan legislation, which was signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo a year ago, required the task force to submit an initial report by Dec. 1.
That initial 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.
Research in the Adirondacks has increasingly pointed to the harm salt use causes to lakes and drinking wells and shown that salting from state-managed roads causes a disproportionate amount of runoff in the park. Park residents have struggled with contaminated wells that pose serious health and economic consequences.
But state road crews still rely on salt to maintain safe roads across the snowy and icy Adirondacks, applying road salt at among the highest rates of any state in the country.
“How do we both have safe roads but also have safe drinking water and healthy ecosystems?” asked Dan Kelting, executive director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College and a leading researcher of road salt impacts in the park. “The task force’s purpose is to figure out that balance and what recommendations need to be made to achieve the balance between driving safety and the health of the public.”
Advocates and lawmakers involved in the road salt issue attributed the delay in task force appointments to the chaos of the governor’s office in the past year. While legislative appointments were recommended within months of the law being signed, Cuomo did not advance the process of forming the task force. When Hochul took charge after Cuomo resigned in August, she had a long list of positions to fill, including the chair of the Adirondack Park Agency board, which sat empty for over two years.
“I realize that there was a deadline that was fast approaching and we are looking into getting this task force together, because it needs to come together,” Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, a cosponsor of the law, said Monday. “We need to do this important work for the lakes and water in the Adirondacks.”
Jones said he was confident that the current administration was working to establish the task force, but he also acknowledged frustration with the delays to the creation of the panel since the law was adopted.
“It is frustrating, obviously,” Jones said. “I authored the bill and I know this is extremely important to help save our waterways and our drinking water in the Adirondacks.”
State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said he appreciated that the transition in the governor’s office likely slowed the appointment process. “It would be good to get the task force going and take advantage of whatever data they want to collect this winter season,” Stec said.
Kelting also said he was hopeful that Hochul would prioritize the issue and that the task force would soon begin its work. There’s a lot of work for it to do, Kelting said,
“We are behind, I think it is fair to say,” Kelting said.