Eight months after legislation celebration, a task force has yet to meet over salt
By Gwendolyn Craig
The state’s road salt task force has a detailed report due to lawmakers on Dec. 1, except there’s a problem—the task force doesn’t exist.
The state’s efforts to keep winter roads safe has become an increasingly important balancing act for the public health of those living at the receiving end of pounds on pounds of salt. Legislation passed last year, doctored by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and signed into law at the start of this year, established a 15-member task force to study road salt use on Adirondack roads. Studies have shown high levels of salt in some Adirondack Park residents’ drinking wells. Salt is also impacting water bodies.
The task force is also charged with creating a three-year pilot plan for road salt reduction practices. A final report on that study will be due to lawmakers in the summer of 2024.
But eight months after local officials held a press conference in Saranac Lake praising the passage of the legislation, a task force has yet to meet.
Joseph Morrissey, a spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation, said a couple of appointments remain outstanding.
“The Task Force will be designated once identification of all statutorily recommended members is completed,” he said. He did not respond to questions about what was causing the delay.
State Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said Assembly appointments had been made. He declined to identify who those people were. State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said the Senate Minority had appointed Kevin Hajos to the task force. Hajos is the superintendent of public works for Warren County.
“I’m concerned they haven’t all been appointed or even met yet,” Stec said in a message to Adirondack Explorer.
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Members of the environmental conservation community, who had pushed for the road salt legislation, also didn’t know what was holding up the creation of the task force. Dan Kelting, executive director of Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute told Adirondack Explorer, “I know nothing more than you at this point.”
Brittany Christenson, executive director of AdkAction, had said appointments could be made soon, but nothing was official.
Jones was also concerned with the delay. His appointments, he said, were made several months ago. He believed the outstanding appointments were from the governor.It adds to a growing list of delayed appointments in the Adirondacks, including a chair for the Adirondack Park Agency and two expired commissioner positions.
“We’re pushing it, but as you know, there are certain circumstances going on right now with the governor, and I don’t know if things have fallen off the table,” Jones said.
On Aug. 3, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an independent investigation found Cuomo had sexually harassed multiple women from 2013 to 2020 and was in violation of state and federal laws. In a pre-recorded statement, Cuomo denied the allegations.
The state Assembly’s judiciary committee is discussing impeachment. If the Assembly delivers articles of impeachment to the state Senate, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would temporarily take over as governor.
Jones said he is ready to go with the road salt task force and hopes “to start addressing the issue through the good legislation that we passed.” If the task force does get announced soon, it will have a few months to convene and compile its report. According to the legislation, the report must include:
- Identifying possible sources of salt contamination and an initial assessment of the scope of road salt impacts on public and private lands;
- Reviewing current road management practices in the Adirondack Park;
- Recommending practices for winter road maintenance, training programs, public education, road salt reduction targets, “including consideration of estimated environmental, implementation, and liability costs for state and local governments and the public.”
This is in addition to creating the three-year pilot program, which must first be reviewed and approved by the Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation before getting implemented.
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