State agencies continue review of fall draft
By Zachary Matson
State officials plan to release a report from the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force early next year, months after task force members started to finalize recommendations, according to a joint statement from the Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation.
The 14-member panel first met publicly in February and continued behind closed doors to work in committees throughout the spring and summer, focusing on current impacts of salt use, best management practices, public outreach and how to monitor future use.
“DOT and DEC are proud of the work that has been done to date and look forward to a comprehensive review of the task force’s report once it is final and is made public,” the statement said.
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Task force members shared details of emerging draft recommendations at public events in August and October, indicating the appointed task force members were close to completing their work.
Now, weeks into the state’s snow season, it’s not clear when a report on the panel’s recommendations will be delivered to state lawmakers or made public. It is also not clear if any new pilot projects proposed by the task force, intended to test different approaches to reducing salt use, will be implemented this winter. The state has continued to evaluate some pilot projects that existed prior to the task force.
Assemblymember Billy Jones, who sponsored the bill establishing the task force, on Tuesday said he didn’t have details on the timing of a report but that he was pushing for its release. He noted that some of what the panel recommends will need to be funded in the state budget.
“We need to help mitigate the situation immediately,” Jones said in a statement. “With the looming state budget, we are looking for relief and money to help with some of the solutions (proposed by the task force).”
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The task force has faced delays since its inception. While the law establishing the task force envisioned a report of initial findings and recommendations being finished in December 2021, task force members had not even been appointed by that deadline.
After former Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped down, Gov. Kathy Hochul last December appointed an experienced group of task force members with science, government, legal and advocacy backgrounds. Some details of the panel’s apparent recommendations have seeped into the public at events centered on Adirondack water quality this fall.
Daniel Kelting, the longtime director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute and a task force member, in August signaled the task force had made significant progress and suggested a report could be final in a matter of weeks.
During the Adirondack Lakes Alliance Symposium at Paul Smith’s College in early August, Kelting, who participated in much of the key scientific research establishing the extent of salt pollution in Adirondack ground and surface water, outlined the task force’s findings and draft proposals.
Kelting in a presentation said the draft proposals included strategies to improve winter road maintenance and data collection at the state, local and private levels, as well as dedicated funding, a public outreach campaign and training for road crews.
One, Bob Kafin, an environmental lawyer and former chair of the Adirondack Council, said task force workgroups met almost weekly during March and April, and that the whole group also met to “roll up into a comprehensive document” what each workgroup produced.
“This was a very hands-on project,” Kafin said during the salt summit presentation.
Hamilton County Highway Superintendent Tracy Eldridge, another member, said the task force worked to balance the needs of road safety and water quality.
“(Road crews) hate salt as much as the scientists that know it’s bad for water,” Eldridge said. “We see what it does to our infrastructure, we see what it does to bridges, what it does to vehicles.”
The members also share a common objective, Eldridge said.
“All of us on this task force want the end goal to be to reduce road salt by a lot,” he said. “With that said, I would rather have a good report than a hurried report.”
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