Press Releases

Adirondack Groups Applaud Road Salt Bill Approval

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Bipartisan Senate/Assembly Sponsorship Team Praised

ALBANY, N.Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo won praise from Adirondack and statewide conservation organizations today when he signed into law the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act – a bipartisan bill that would help reduce road salt pollution and protect drinking water in the Adirondack Park.

The legislation creates an Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program. The new law establishes a salt-reduction pilot program from October 2021 through 2024 to test alternative measures already shown to work better and cost less than current winter road maintenance practices.  Highway safety would remain the top priority.

The bill (S.8663-A/A.8767-A) was sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay. Co-sponsors included Sens. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, Daphne Jordan, R-Castleton-on-Hudson, Joe Griffo, R-Rome, and Rachael May, D-Morrisville.  The groups also thanked Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, for his support as well as Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, Assembly Transportation Chairman Bill Magnarelli, D-Syracuse, and Assembly EnCon Chair Steven Englebright, D-Setauket. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature in July. 

The Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States and is the largest intact, temperate deciduous forest in the world. It is also a lived-ecosystem with 130 small, rural communities alongside protected wilderness areas.

The Adirondack Park contains more than 11,000 lakes and ponds, and more than 30,000 miles of rivers, brook, and streams and is the source of most of the state’s rivers. The Park’s hard bedrock, thin soils, and steep slopes make it the place where road salt damage – like acid rain damage -- is likely to appear first.  Lessons learned in the Adirondacks can be applied statewide in the years ahead.

The road salt bill was passed in honor of the late Randy Preston, who served as Wilmington Town Supervisor until his untimely death from brain cancer one year ago. Preston helped to rally local government support for protecting the park’s drinking water, lakes, and rivers from road salt.

“I've seen the pristine beauty of the Adirondacks firsthand," said Senator Tim Kennedy."We have an obligation to our children and generations to come to preserve this unique ecosystem, and the implementation of the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program will be a critical part of achieving just that. As Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, I was proud to sponsor and pass this legislation, and I look forward to working with our partners in the Adirondack State Park community as we explore new ways to further protect our environmental resources."

“Drinking water across the Adirondacks has been compromised by road salt contamination,” said Dan Kelting, Executive Director, Paul Smith's College Adirondack Watershed Institute. “Our testing shows a strong correlation between salty water and state-maintained highways. The problem is identified. Now we need to fix it.”

“We thank Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders for addressing road salt pollution now, before it becomes as widespread and damaging to the environment and economy as acid rain,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, which started working with the State Transportation Department on road salt in 2006. “We should have safe roads and clean water. Corrosive, salty water is bad for everything it touches: lakes, rivers, fish, roads, cars, bridges, driveways, pumps, plumbing, and people.”

“Salt-contaminated drinking water is a serious public health hazard for people with high blood pressure and other health conditions,” said Brittany Christenson of AdkAction, a regional project-driven nonprofit that has been pressing for a reduction in road salt pollution for nearly a decade. “When it strikes a private well, it can become a costly crisis for local families as they need to buy bottled water and replace appliances, pipes, and even drill a new well. As salt contamination gets worse, it can affect entire community water supplies. We are pleased to see the state taking the first steps toward a solution.”

“Signing this bill into law is a big step forward for protecting Adirondack waterways by putting science, testing, and road salt reduction solutions on the ground Park-wide,” said Kelley Tucker of the Ausable River Association. “Successful pilots in the Lake George region and on Mirror Lake have shown reductions in salt use are possible while maintaining public safety. Mirror Lake is one of just a handful of lakes nationwide that has had the natural turnover process interrupted by an accumulation of salt at the bottom of the lake.  A lack of turnover results in low-oxygen at the lake bottom, threatening native species such as lake trout and making the lake susceptible to harmful algal blooms. Indeed, Mirror Lake experienced its first harmful algae bloom this November.”

 “The Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program will help New York find new ways to keep our roads safe in the cold weather while protecting clean drinking water and ensuring our lakes and rivers are healthy for the people and nature who depend on them,” said Peg Olsen, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. “The Nature Conservancy applauds Governor Cuomo, Senator Betty Little, Senator Tim Kennedy, and Assemblyman Billy Jones for championing this legislation.”

“When we see damage like this in the Adirondacks we know it is only a matter of time before it spreads to other parts of the state,” said Robert Hayes, Clean Water Associate at Environmental Advocates NY.  “The thin soils and hard bedrock of the Adirondacks make them the canary in the coal mine. When soil chemistry gets toxic here, it should be seen as a warning to the rest of us. It’s time to get solutions on the table.”

Patrick McClellan, Policy Director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “Reducing road salt in the Adirondack Park would help improve water quality and decrease pollution in one of our state's most beautiful greenspaces. We thank Governor Cuomo,  the Senate, and Assembly for adopting this important legislation and commend Senator Kennedy and Assemblyman Jones for their leadership.”

“This legislation is a significant step toward addressing a significant water contamination issue in the Adirondack Park. We are excited to see how this study and pilot program will not only benefit the Park, but ultimately all of New York State,” said Michael Barrett Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

In addition to damaging cars and roadways, road salt corrodes bridges and parking structures. Repair, maintenance, and replacement of road infrastructure corroded by road salt costs are estimated to cost $18,563 per land-mile per year. Repair, maintenance, and depreciation of motor vehicles from road salt corrosion amounts to an estimated $3,416 per lane-mile per year. As salt leaches into groundwater, it is making streams saltier in the summer and is releasing heavy metals and other toxins from sources that would otherwise remain harmless, the Watershed Institute’s tests have shown.

Preliminary results from pilot salt reduction efforts in the Lake George Region have demonstrated in excess of a 30% drop in salt expenses. Roughly $16 million is spent on road salt in the Adirondacks each year.

This new legislation directs the Dept. of Transportation and Dept. of Environmental Conservation and the Dept. of Health to cooperate in a three-year Adirondack Park wide road salt application reduction pilot. 

According to the bill:

“The Task Force report and recommendations shall be due September 1, 2021. The task force shall recommend Adirondack state road winter maintenance practices to remediate salt contamination of our surface and ground waters.

“The Adirondack Road Salt Task Force recommendations for updated levels of service, best management practices, and road salt reduction targets shall guide the Departments of Transportation, Health, and Environmental Conservation in measurably reducing sodium and chloride levels in both surface and ground waters.”

The groups thanked the bill’s original Senate sponsor Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who gave up the top spot to Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Kennedy. His majority status made Senate passage more likely. The groups also expressed their concern for Little’s health, wishing her a speedy recovery from a recent cancer diagnosis.

For more information: John Sheehan, Adirondack Council, 518-441-1340

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