PLATTSBURGH — The Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act passed both houses of the State Legislature this week.
The legislation would establish an Adirondack road salt reduction task force, pilot plan and test program aimed at decreasing salt pollution in order to safeguard Adirondack waterways and resources, as well as protect the health of North Country families.
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) introduced the bill, cosponsored by Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), in the Assembly.
“When it comes to keeping our lakes, rivers and streams and water wells clean, the old adage of an ‘ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure’ certainly fits,” said State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), who cosponsored the Senate version of the bill, in a statement.
She noted that newer equipment and utilizing technology has helped local highway departments keep roads safe while cutting back on the use of road salt.
"My hope is that we can do the same throughout the (Adirondack) Park. A comprehensive study, including a pilot program, would give us the data we need to develop best practices."
'A CRUCIAL STEP'
Though the safety of travelers during harsh, snowy winters is a top priority, it is critical to find a way to protect drivers without continuing to harm the environment and pollute drinking water, Jones said in a statement.
"This legislation is a crucial step in providing protection for our natural water sources while also keeping the roads safe for travel during the winter."
Stec said it was imperative to strike a balance of providing safety and addressing the ecological health of Adirondack waterways.
“A proactive environmental strategy which also addresses the need for safe passable highways is long overdue in the Adirondacks," he continued.
"This proposed pilot program will supply us with the data needed to proceed towards a favorable outcome."
High salinity in water can contribute to high blood pressure, destroy plumbing and household appliances, pollute waterways and negatively impact wildlife and soil quality, Little's office said.
The bill was named in honor of long-time Wilmington Town Supervisor and Adirondack advocate Randy Preston, who died from brain cancer last year, an Adirondack Council press release said.
The 14-member task force of appointed state and local stakeholders would conduct a thorough review of road salt application within the park and provide a public report to the governor and legislature on reduction targets and best management practices by Sept. 21, 2021, Little's office said.
That would inform a pilot plan and test program that will run from Oct. 15 to June 30 each year from 2021 through 2024 in order to test alternative measures for road maintenance on state-owned roadways in the Adirondacks.
The state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Environmental Conservation will then be tasked with submitting a report to the governor and legislature by Aug. 30, 2024 on the impact on road safety and water quality.
Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway said lakes, rivers and wildlife will continue to be compromised if road salt pollution is not addressed.
“We have already seen salty bottom layers develop on lakes very close to highways and downtowns," he continued. "Roadside trees are taking a beating from runoff and salt spray as snow melts and car tires spread it around.
"As those trees die, erosion and water pollution accelerate.”
Adirondack Watershed Institute Executive Director Dan Kelting said the institute's testing shows a strong correlation between salty water and state-maintained highways, and that the state currently applies about 37 tons of salt per road lane mile.
"That is not sustainable from an environmental and human health perspective.”
According to the Adirondack Council, pilot salt reduction efforts in the Lake George area have resulted in a more than 30 percent drop in salt expenses, and about $16 million is spent on road salt in the Adirondacks annually
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