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Advocates try to unfreeze road salt bill

Green groups ask governor to sign bill Legislature passed

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)

ALBANY — Adirondack environmental groups are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act, which passed the state Legislature two months ago and awaits the governor’s signature before it can become law.

The bill is named in honor of the late Randy Preston, who rallied local government support for protecting the park’s waters from road salt while he served as Wilmington town supervisor until his death one year ago. It passed the state Assembly on July 20 and the state Senate two days later.

The legislation, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, and state Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, would create an Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program. If approved, it would establish a salt-reduction pilot program from October 2021 through 2024 to test alternative measures to salting while keeping highway safety as a top priority.

Green groups asked to governor to pass this legislation so the pilot program can begin.

“Protect the Adirondacks has been studying water quality in lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park for more than 20 years, and in that time we’ve watched chloride and sodium levels go up and up,” said Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer. “Governor Cuomo knows all about flattening curves, so we urge him to sign this legislation to help develop a regional plan to reduce and eliminate road salt pollution to protect Adirondack lakes and ponds and the property of local residents.”

“For three decades the Adirondack Park Agency has invited (the state Department of Transportation) to present on how to reduce the amount of road salt applied each winter,” said Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve Managing Partner David Gibson. “Each time, DOT explains that alternatives to road salt and new application methods were constantly being tested on short sections of state roads. That limited approach has resulted in widespread contamination of water supplies. … This legislation is sorely needed.”

“When (salt) strikes a private well, it becomes a hazard for people with high blood pressure and other health conditions,” said Brittany Christenson of AdkAction. “Salty water can become a costly crisis for local families. They need to buy bottled water and replace appliances, pipes, and even drill new wells.”

“On top of all the adverse health effects that come with sodium, chloride from road salt can also corrode metals and damage plumbing,” said Environmental Advocates NY Clean Water Associate Robert Hayes. “This corrosion can leach lead from pipes into home drinking water, even when the source is not contaminated with lead.”

“Direct runoff from road salt is inhibiting spring turnover in Mirror Lake, an essential process that redistributes oxygen throughout lake waters,” said Kelley Tucker of the AuSable River Association. “Mirror Lake is one of only nine lakes in the United States to have an interruption in lake-turnover documented in the scientific literature.”

“Salty lakes and salty wells are bad news and something that won’t just go away overnight when we stop using salt,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway. “We can’t allow this damage to continue unabated.”

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