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Road salt pilot project marks new beginning

The passage of the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act marks the single greatest opportunity to combat road salt pollution since this problem was first discovered. It could not come at a more important moment.

Recent scientific studies have demonstrated the prevalence of road salt pollution in our lakes, streams and groundwater across the Adirondacks. People are suffering from property damage, economic hardships and poor health, all because of our dangerous addiction to road salt.

Thanks to the leadership of Assemblyman Billy Jones, and Senators Betty Little, Dan Stec and Tim Kennedy, we have a new opportunity to engage with those responsible for keeping the driving public safe. The task force provides a mandate to develop modern winter road maintenance strategies to ensure that students, workers, emergency services personnel and daily commuters get to their destinations safely, while protecting clean drinking water for those same people once they return home to their families.

The creation of this task force legislation was the product of a years-long process informed by scientists, impacted homeowners and local leaders in the region. The bill sponsors sought input from the general public, from scientific experts, road managers and local government prior to introducing this bill. The bill was later refined through a committee process and reached the floor of each house for a vote, where it was approved and sent to the executive last fall for a signature or veto. In considering whether to sign or veto this bill, a number of technical revisions were requested for this bill that ultimately preserved the intent of the legislation.

The chapter amendment process, as it is called, is a common procedure in state government. Bill language negotiated after passage by the legislature but before being signed into law by the governor are repassed in the beginning of the following legislative session, in this case amending a chapter of the laws of 2020. Many other bills also underwent the chapter amendment process. The bill sponsors were well organized and shared the details of chapter amendment negotiations with stakeholders before agreeing to the amendments.

The winter road maintenance strategies developed as a result of this legislation will still be tested in a park-wide pilot project subject to a later budget appropriation, and will be expected to save taxpayer dollars and reduce corrosion of public infrastructure in the coming years. The process of developing and deploying new winter road maintenance strategies across the region will still require robust data and nothing less than full transparency by our state agencies.

In the end, this task force will only be as strong as the members that are appointed to serve in this important cause. The chapter amendments included provisions for ensuring that the task force is comprised of scientists, engineers, road maintenance operators, highway superintendents, municipal leaders and advocates that know how to help government protect clean water.

What has been described by some as a quiet weakening of this legislation was in fact the sometimes humdrum but highly important process of our elected officials doing their jobs to protect public health, driver safety and clean water. A civil process grounded in communication and compromise led to the final language in the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act, and the bill has the full support and confidence of the Adirondack Road Salt Working Group.

Kevin Chlad, Adirondack Council

Brittany Christenson, AdkAction

Dan Kelting, Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute

Chris Navitsky, Lake George Waterkeeper

Brendan Wiltse, Adirondack Lakes Alliance

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