Use less road salt? It's easier said than done
Cutting down road salt to better protect groundwater and wetlands is on the selectmen’s to-do list. And the practical issues associated with reduced salt use on roads — angry commuters, maybe more school closings, potentially more accidents — is expected to be on the agenda of a Board of Selectmen’s meeting before the fall.
“The issue of salt and the amount of salt we’re using is of interest to everyone,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said at the selectmen’s June 19 meeting.
“The black roads at 7 a.m., that are no-ice and clear, are only because of the amount of salt we’ve been putting on the roads,” Marconi told the selectmen.
One of the problems town officials will discuss is the lack of substitute products for treating the roads in winter.
“There aren’t a lot of options right now,” Marconi said.
“State highways, the use magnesium chloride in addition to all the salt,” Marconi said.
The effect on wetlands near major highways has been dramatic.
“All aquatic life in the wetlands has been wiped out,” Marconi said. “That alone should be a warning to us.”
Lacking an alternative treatment, the town could go back to the old ways.
“We can reduce the amount of salt,” Marconi said, “and use sand.”
Different approaches might make sense, depending on the terrain.
“There are hills and flats,” Marconi said.
People are accustomed to seeing the black road pavement in the morning, regardless of the ice and snow that’s fallen, Marconi said, and less use of road salt would mean a lot of phone calls from upset commuters.
“More school closures, too,” added Selectman Steve Zemo.
Some years back the town began using straight salt on the roads, rather than a sand-salt mix. One benefit was that the highway department stopped sweeping excess winter sand from the roads every spring — a change that Marconi said saved the town about $100,000 a year.
The salt buy
The Board of Selectmen (BOS) decided that it needs to have a meeting and discuss what the town wants to do before public works director Peter Hill makes his annual pre-winter buy of road salt.
“We should have the discussion and decide before he goes out and buys it,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark, who raised the salt issue for discussion.
The town’s salt-buy is usually within 60 days after the July 1 start of the new fiscal year — July or August.
“...The BOS should discuss and make a decision prior to that,” Kozlark said in an email to The Press June 20, the day after the selectmen’s meeting.
“It sounded like a bit more research needed to be done, and looking at a mix of salt and sand could be an option,” she said. “I am going to ask to have it discussed before Pete makes his winter purchase so we have options to look at.”
Kozlark had raised the issue June 19, in the wake of a public hearing the night before on the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), which is being revised by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
At the hearing, protecting water resources was a major focus of First Selectman Marconi’s testimony to planning consultant Glenn Chalder, who is overseeing the 10-year revision if the plan.
“We’re the headwaters for 10 or 12 brooks, streams and rivers,” Marconi said. “That’s critical.”
“We’ve lost aquatic life,” Marconi said, “…The Board of Selectmen has discussed reducing salt on our roads.”
At the end of the selectmen’s meeting, Kozlark was adamant that the town needed to act. The heavy use of road salt might solve the short-term problem of icy roads, she said, but only at the cost of contributing to the more serious long-term problem of degrading water resources.
“I think we should just do the right thing,” Kozlark said. “We cannot protect our water enough. We should just forge ahead.”