New salt reduction test zones to roll out this winter
By Zachary Matson
State officials at a road salt conference in Lake George on Tuesday committed to moving forward on proposals to reduce salt use but left some questions unanswered about specific long-term commitments.
State agencies plan to establish new pilot projects this winter road season to test salt reduction strategies outlined in the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force’s recent report. Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation representatives promised the agencies were evaluating all of the report’s recommendations and were already moving forward on some.
“This is a priority for the state,” said Sean Mahar, DEC executive deputy commissioner. “We are not going anywhere.”
Agency representatives and task force members participated in the 8th annual Adirondack Champlain Regional Salt Summit hosted by the Lake George Association.
Some audience members pressed for more details about the state’s long-term commitment to demonstrating reduced salt use, calling for greater urgency. Non-government task force members who spoke during the event said that they had pushed for more ongoing oversight of implementation of the task force proposals and said they hoped it would still emerge.
“Is there a long-term plan for DEC and DOT to actually marry together with a direct mandate to determine how they are going to reduce salt in the next 10 years?” asked James Emery, who is working on salt contamination issues in New Hampshire and presented at the conference.
The state officials did offer some insight into how the agencies planned to move forward, noting the benefits of putting on paper best winter management practices and details of road salt contamination.
A.J. Smith, assistant director at DEC’s division of water, said agency scientists view the effects of road salt contamination as among the largest threats to water quality and emphasized the value of detailing ways to use less salt. He also acknowledged that the agency had not developed an action plan for how to move forward.
“Because now we have the map in front of us, we have the laundry list of potential work, we can start to engage, we can start to do more,” Smith said.
Smith said DEC could “turn the knobs” on existing water monitoring programs to focus on road salt contamination in the Adirondacks, look at funding programs to make more salt reduction investments eligible and work with local communities to develop local salt reduction plans.
Rob Fitch, DOT director of transportation maintenance, said the agency planned to strengthen its use of data in fine tuning salt use.
“We believe a more refined analysis will allow us to better manage and optimize salt use,” Fitch said. He later said it was hard to commit to specific reduction targets.
“I’m confident our starting point is pretty good,” Fitch said.
The task force report also highlighted that road salt is pervasive across the state and in many regions worse than the Adirondacks. The state officials said they planned to spread lessons learned in the Adirondacks to other areas.