Randy Preston left a legacy of public service and advocacy for the Adirondacks.
On Wednesday, a major piece of legislation designed to protect Adirondack forests, waterways, drinking water and aquifers from the ravages of road salt cemented that legacy.
Preston — a Wilmington town supervisor and Adirondack advocate who died of a brain tumor in 2019 — helped draw attention to many important Adirondack issues, including the issue of excessive road salt pollution.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo late Wednesday night signed the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act (A8767A/S8663A), which will create a state task force to study excessive road salt use in Adirondacks and establish a three-year pilot plan and test program for road salt reduction practices.
The bill places long-overdue focus on a significant environmental and public health problem that plagues sensitive ecological areas such as the Adirondacks in much the same way acid rain does.
Each year, highway crews apply 352 million pounds of salt to roads in the Adirondacks.
As the salt washes into the soil and runs off the hard ground into the Adirondack Park’s 11,000 lakes and ponds and its more than 30,000 miles of rivers, it destroys habitats and creates dead zones in lakes, making it difficult for fish and plants to survive.
The run off contaminates wells, putting people at risk of consuming excessive sodium or making the water undrinkable. And as it does that, it affects residential life and the business economy.
The catch-22 is that those residents and businesses also need roads cleared of snow and ice in the harsh Adirondack winter environment to survive.
Highway crews can’t just stop using road salt. That would put people’s lives and livelihoods in danger.
But lawmakers, health and transportation professionals, scientists and others can explore alternatives to the current levels of use and investigate practices that might help mitigate the impact of the salt distribution.
That could include finding eco-friendly alternatives such as changing the mixture of sand and salt, pre-treating the roads to reduce the need for salt after the snow starts falling, changing the composition of road materials to melt snow and ice more quickly, and exploring alternatives to salt such as waste products from the production of cheese and beets.
The impact of this task force and its work won’t be limited to the Adirondacks, either. The practices and alternative treatments recommended by the task force could be applied to the Catskills and other areas threatened by excessive salt usage.
For all those public officials, environmental groups and others who worked to make this bill a reality, this is a good day.
For the environment and the citizens of the Adirondacks, it’s a great day.