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Governor Cuomo Should Sign Road Salt Bill into Law

By: Casey Marvell - Adirondack Council Government Relations Analyst
Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Governor Cuomo has demonstrated national environmental leadership and dedication to preserving the legacy of the Adirondack Park. During his tenure as Governor, he has followed in the footsteps of great conservationists before him and has acted to preserve Adirondack Wilderness, protect clean water, and support communities throughout the Park. From historic acquisitions for the Forest Preserve to nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), to a record-setting $300 million Environmental Protection Fund, the Governor year in and year out continues to renew his commitment to preserving the Adirondack Park as a national treasure for current and future generations.

Now more than ever, we need Governor Cuomo to take another leadership role because, unfortunately, Adirondack water and the people who rely on it are under threat from dangerous road salt pollution. If left uncontrolled, we will regrettably continue to pollute clean drinking water, inflict more harm to wildlife, and jeopardize the health of Park residents and visitors alike.

The Opportunity

The good news is Governor Cuomo has the opportunity to prevent road salt pollution from becoming a bigger public health crisis. Legislation that would reduce road salt pollution has passed the state Assembly and Senate and it’s now awaiting the Governor’s signature for it to become law.

Governor Cuomo has shown unmatched leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and he should do so once again by signing this important legislation to establish an Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program (A.8767a Jones/ S.8663a Kennedy). We must ensure that the Governor seizes this opportunity before more Adirondack water and communities are harmed.

Please Encourage the Governor to Sign this Legislation into Law.

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Science Shows Threat to Public Health

The science is clear that road salt pollution is widespread and a threat to public health. Water scientists continue to warn us that road salt pollution is too dangerous to not address. Once road salt contaminates a water supply it makes the water unsafe to consume and it is impossible to remove. A recent study by the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute showed that of over 500 wells sampled in the Adirondacks, 66% of wells downslope from state roads were contaminated with sodium and or chloride above the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water guidance values. This was compared with less than 10% of wells downslope from locally-maintained roads. Additional Adirondack studies have shown that when roadside surface water data is compared to data from more remote surface waters, the average chloride concentration of roadside surface waters is found to be 22 times higher. Therefore, it is no coincidence that more homeowners along state roadways have been suffering from health issues stemming from contaminated drinking water.

Task Force Would Look at Different Options

An Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program is a smart, efficient, and cost-effective way to reduce road salt pollution while maintaining safe roadways. The task force would be led by the New York State Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Conservation (DEC). The task force would additionally include representatives from the Adirondack Park Agency and experts in road management and water science. The task force would look at the scope and impacts of road salt pollution in the Adirondack Park in comparison to current DOT policies and practices for winter road maintenance. Additionally, the task force would develop recommendations for road salt reduction targets and strategies to meet the reduction goals while ensuring that safe winter travel conditions are maintained.

This legislation makes sense because there is no one “silver bullet” solution to replace road salt with another product. Instead, there is a collection of tools, products, and strategies that can be implemented that will result in safe winter roads while protecting clean water. We know this can work because it has successfully been implemented in Adirondack communities and elsewhere. The DOT has made efforts over the past few years to address road salt pollution and implement new strategies and improved technology like alternative de-icers, better plows, and driver training but this has only led to incremental change because it has not been scaled to fit the whole region. Protecting clean drinking water is too important not to strive for effective widespread road salt reduction results. Therefore, this legislation is needed because reducing road salt efficiently is a complex issue that requires a collaborative effort that can be provided in a task force dynamic.

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A Way for New York State to Save Money

An Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program is also timely seeing that it may be able to save New York State tens of millions of dollars each year. In these challenging times, the state should embrace new ways to save money. In 2019, New York State purchased 1.2 million tons of road salt for winter road maintenance, costing an estimated $77 million. An estimated $16 million of that was spent on Adirondack Roads. Additionally, road salt erodes motor vehicles, road infrastructure, and damages nearby ecosystems leading to hidden secondary costs of road salt application. Other small-scale pilot programs throughout the Park have shown that comprehensive road salt reduction efforts can save as much as 25% on overall winter road maintenance costs. Governor Cuomo should see this as an opportunity not only to protect clean water but also to save money which could be spent on other community-friendly initiatives.

Some claim that road salt reduction may inhibit road safety for New Yorkers and those who visit the state. While it is paramount to ensure safe driving conditions for the public, New York can and should strive to achieve both safe roads and clean water. Experts point out that the courts have ruled that so long as the state and its agencies are complying with their established levels of service for state roadways, the state is not exposed to liability for negligence should an accident occur. This means that the DOT is not bound to current winter road maintenance practices out of any legal necessity. Thus, New York State may, through this legislation, seek to update its winter road maintenance strategies and practices without being fearful of accident liability. New York must keep its roads safe and this legislation ensures that. But the current application of road salt on state roadways is not sustainable and is becoming ever more dangerous for too many New Yorkers.

Help Make This Happen

New York State has led the way in the fight against acid rain. And it has been said, that road salt pollution is the next acid rain, which is a frightening prospect. But Governor Cuomo has a unique opportunity to once again demonstrate his leadership by bringing together state agencies along with a collection of experts to boldly reshape the way New York State keeps the driving public safe. We must make sure this important legislation is signed into law without delay. In order to do so, take a moment and encourage the Governor to sign this legislation into law. By doing so, you will help to ensure that clean water in the Adirondack Park is protected for current and future generations. Thank you!

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Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/staff-headshots/Casey_Marvel2.jpgCasey Marvel is the Government Relations Analyst in the Council’s Albany office. He assists the government relations and communications teams by tracking legislation, researching issues, and advocating for the Adirondacks. Casey completed his Master’s in Political Science from the University of Albany. Casey has always been passionate about the Adirondacks, having explored the Park throughout his life. He enjoys hiking, fishing, kayaking, and bringing his dogs along for new adventures.

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