ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a bill creating a pilot program to reduce road salt use on state highways in the Adirondack Park.
Supporters of the legislation say they hope to reduce the amount of salt washing off roads into streams, wetlands and groundwater, potentially contaminating drinking water wells.
Environmental groups applauded approval of the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act, which creates an Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program. It will set up and monitor a pilot program to run from October 2021 through the spring of 2024 to test measures to reduce salt use, while maintaining winter road safety.
The bill, which also has the support of local government leaders, passed both houses of the Legislature in July. Sponsors included Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, and Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury.
“This bi-partisan environmental bill provides common-sense solutions by listening to input from local highway superintendents and has the potential to save money for our community,” said Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R-Meco, another co-sponsor. “Our residents deserve clean, safe drinking water and we need to ensure that our Adirondack region is preserved for generations to come.”
The Adirondack Park’s hard bedrock, thin soils and steep slopes make it susceptible to road salt damage, bill supporters and environmental groups said. Lessons learned in the Adirondack initiative could be applied statewide in the future.
The legislation directs the Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health to cooperate in the pilot reduction study.
“I’ve seen the pristine beauty of the Adirondacks firsthand,” said Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “We have an obligation to our children and generations to come to preserve this unique ecosystem, and the implementation of the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program will be a critical part of achieving just that.”
The bill was passed in honor of the late Randy Preston, who advocated for road salt use reductions when he served as town supervisor of the Essex County town of Wilmington, where Whiteface Mountain is located. He died from brain cancer a year ago.
Local governments have taken initiatives in recent years to reduce their own road salt use by such techniques as pre-treating roads with brine, but state highway maintenance has so far relied on traditional salting techniques like application during a storm, which increases the amount of salt that runs off.
“Drinking water across the Adirondacks has been compromised by road salt contamination,” said Dan Kelting, executive director of the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute in Saranac. “Our testing shows a strong correlation between salty water and state-maintained highways. The problem is identified. Now we need to fix it.”
In addition to contaminating water, road salt can corrode vehicles and the metal components on highway bridges.
“We thank Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders for addressing road salt pollution now, before it becomes as widespread and damaging to the environment and economy as acid rain,” said William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, which has been pressing the issue with the state Department of Transportation since 2006.
“When we see damage like this in the Adirondacks, we know it is only a matter of time before it spreads to other parts of the state,” said Robert Hayes, clean water associate at Environmental Advocates NY. “The thin soils and hard bedrock of the Adirondacks make them the canary in the coal mine.”
Preliminary results from pilot salt reduction efforts by local governments in the Lake George region have demonstrated at least a 30 percent drop in municipal salt expenses, advocates said.