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Road salt bill shakes out in Legislature

A plow truck from the state Department of Transportation dumps straight salt on state Route 3, west of Tupper Lake, as snow falls on Nov. 30, 2019. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

The state Assembly passed the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act on Monday.

The legislation would create two things: the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force, which would research alternatives to salt spreading on winter roads and submit its recommendations by Sept. 1, 2021, and a three-year road salt application reduction pilot program to implement these changes.

Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, who sponsored this bill, said this was “a major victory” and that the bill is a “crucial step in providing protection for our natural water sources while also keeping the roads safe.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly unanimously, will now go to the state Senate, where Sens. Betty Little, R-Queensbury and Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, have also sponsored the legislation. Jones said this will likely be voted on in the next few days. If it passes the Senate it would need to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The North Country is no stranger to harsh, snowy winters, which is why the safety of travelers during these cold months is one of our top priorities,” Jones wrote in a press release. “That being said, it’s critical that we find a way to protect drivers without continuing to harm the environment and pollute our drinking water.”

The bill is named after Randy Preston, who had been the Wilmington town supervisor for around a decade when he died in July. Jones called Preston a “champion of this issue” and said he had been involved in a group in Albany focusing on road salt reduction.

Salt is used to keep slippery roads safe in the winter, but when it runs off into waterways, wells and natural lands its sodium content can have corrupting effects, changing the makeup of streams or making wells undrinkable.

A 2019 study from the Adirondack Watershed Institute said of 500 Adirondacks wells tested, 64% of these downhill from state roads were found to have sodium levels exceeding the federally recommended health limit.

“It basically ruins their life,” Jones said.

“Road salt can leech into surface and ground water, releasing heavy metals and other toxins into the environment and drinking water supply that threaten the health and safety of North Country families,” he wrote in his press release.

Jones said if this pilot program is successful, it would be expanded statewide.

“This is a problem that is not going away,” Jones said.

Jones said the task force would look at buying better plowing technology, using better blades and pinpointing areas where less salt can be used. He said a lot of data has already been collected on this subject.

Jones said he hopes people will see results sooner rather than later, but that change is slow. He said he will make sure this task force’s progress does not get “lost in the shuffle,” like others do.

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