Road salt: Wetlands board recognizes problem, possible reduction
Efforts to wean the town from the use of road salt in the winter seem to have the support of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Inland Wetlands Board and Aquifer Protection Agency — still a single three-purpose agency, although that’s expected to change when the November election produces a separate Inland Wetlands Board.
“Every catch basin in town deposits into a wetlands or watercourse,” Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti told the commission’s June 25 meeting.
Mucchetti recapped a previous discussion among the selectmen, who appear to be moving toward a consensus the town should act more aggressively to reduce the use of salt as a melting agent on roads in winter. Over the years the town has moved from using sand on roads in winter, to using a sand-and-salt mix, to the current use of a straight salt product.
“We’ve been doing it since 1990,” Mucchetti said. “The Board of Selectmen and highway department are going to be looking at what they can do.”
Mucchetti reported that First Selectman Rudy Marconi had said with the state’s use of magnesium chloride to treat its roads in winters had resulted in damage to “all the wetlands on either side” of the state highways.
Commissioner Joe Fossi said there seems to be similar problems with winter road treatments up in Vermont, where he’d visited recently.
“All the white pines along the sides of the highway are dying off,” Fossi said. “The DOT in Vermont is very concerned about it.”
Mucchetti said Town Wetlands Agent Beth Peyser had been in communication with the state Department of Public Health (DPH) concerning salt use in aquifer areas.
Pat Bisacky, an environmental analyst with the DPH drinking water section, wrote an email to Peyser last fall.
“From a State Aquifer Protection Area Program perspective, we are aware of elevated salt levels in your area and around the State of CT. We are working on a solution,” Bisacky said.
The state’s focus then was on bringing to Connecticut something similar to New Hampshire’s “Green Snow Pro” program, “which provides training and certification in efficient and environmentally-friendly winter maintenance practices for municipal, state, and private snow plow drivers.”
Bisacky wrote to Peyser: “The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are working with UConn to develop a Green Snow Pro Program based on New Hampshire’s program to reduce the use of road salt that eventually makes its way into drinking water. We are also working with the large water utilities in the state who are supporting the Green Snow Pro effort.”
Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli recalled a meeting he attended some years ago when a state was introducing the new winter road treatment. “This stuff is great,” he recalled the state official saying of the treatment’s melting power on roads. But, the official said: “We won’t know its effect until 20 years from now.”
Baldelli added that road salt also damages vehicles. “I know the highway department has been telling me for the last several years, their trucks are rotting out from underneath from this,” he said.
Baldelli volunteered that he, wetlands agent Peyser and Assistant Planner Daniel Robbins would be available to do more research on the road salt issue, if needed.
Season of change
Mucchetti said the selectmen were talking about making a decision soon on how to change practices.
“Within the next 60 days, the highway department will be purchasing product to use in the 2019-2020 season,” she said.
Commissioner George Hanlon seemed ready to go back to old ways.
“We got along well with sand,” he said, “and no one had four-wheel drive.”