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The Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force holds its first meeting

A truck demonstrates brine application
Lucas Willard
A truck demonstrates brine application

The Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force, created by the New York state legislature in 2020 to assess the negative effects of the use of the chemical on roads and the surrounding ecosystems, held its first meeting on Monday.

The virtual meeting of the 14-member task force began with a reminder that it has a legislative mandate to conduct a comprehensive review of road salt contamination within the Adirondack Park and evaluate best management practices.

Task Force co-chair New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez noted that the agency has implemented several salt reduction pilot projects over the past few years.

“These pilots explore a range of operational enhancements including maximizing available best practices, best management practices and the use of abrasive mixes as well as the utilization of salt brine in lieu of granular salt.”

Task force members are experts in hydrology, roadway maintenance, public health and geology. Adirondack Park Agency Deputy Director for Planning Megan Phillips noted there has already been significant data compiled on road salt use and impacts.

“There are a couple of elements to our work that are going to be of paramount importance. You know one of those is going to be the monitoring and the ongoing data collection element and understanding not just the amount of salt that’s being put down but how that affects our water bodies. And there’s an important body of work that’s already been done in that vein and we should be building on that as we move forward.”

Adirondack Watershed Institute Executive Director Dan Kelting has been studying waterways in the Adirondacks for years. Institute studies include the impacts of salt runoff into Mirror Lake in Lake Placid and salt impacts on forested watersheds in the Park.

“We have significant groundwater contamination throughout the Adirondacks at levels that are really quite remarkable. So we really have a perhaps a public health crisis and I think the public health dimension is really, really, really critical. It’s going to be really hard to come up with a creative solution when you’re talking about 40-plus years of contamination of loading salt into our ecosystem.”

Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Gerald Delaney, a fifth generation Adirondack resident, said drinking water sources have been contaminated as road salt use increased over the years.

“In 1979 as a young man learning forestry my mentor and forester pointed out the most important asset we had in the Northeast and particularly in the Adirondacks was our water. It’s really important that we find the balance of the sustainable use of salt, or whatever other way to clear our roadways, and that we think into the future because they should have the same ability to live and enjoy the Adirondacks without threat to their water resources.”

The Task Force deadline to submit its report and recommendations is August 1, 2022 and the state DOT must then implement a pilot program based on the recommendations. A report from DOT and Department of Environmental Conservation regarding that pilot is due on August 30, 2024.

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