Comptroller Pulver launches road salt alternative study

Carl Baden, Pine Plains Highway Superintendent, shown in a photo last year with one of the town’s trucks. A study is underway by Dutchess County Comptroller Gregg Pulver to determine whether using a brine mixture on county roads instead of rock salt for winter storms would help save both the environment and money for Dutchess County.

Robin Roraback

Comptroller Pulver launches road salt alternative study

POUGHKEEPSIE — Dutchess County Comptroller Gregg Pulver has launched a study to consider alternatives to using road salt on county roads.

Pulver said, “We are always looking to save taxpayer’s money and launching environmentally friendly road salt is a great way to accomplish both saving your money and protecting our environment.

“The brine solution may significantly reduce costs for our highway department while removing the harmful impact traditional road salt has on our waterways, roads, and soil in Dutchess County, not to mention the excessive damage it does to vehicles by prematurely rusting.”

Pulver said he has long been aware of the effects road salt can have.

“My parents well was contaminated from road salt years ago. Since then, I’ve always advocated for less usage.”

The inspiration for the study came from Rhinebeck where highway superintenden Bob Wyant saw a video on how to make a brine mixer.

The brine mixer churns salt and water to make a mixture, which when applied to winter roads has been shown to be more effective and cheaper than the traditional rock salt used now. It is also safer for the environment.

Once it is applied, the water in the brine evaporates, leaving a coating of salt which sticks to the roads. Traditional rock salt tends to bounce and roll off the roads and into waterways where it gets into drinking water and raises salinity, which can be unhealthy, especially for people with high blood pressure.

It also affects fish, plants, gets into soil, and affects ecosystems, according to “ROAD SALT, The Problem, The Solution, and How to Get There,” a study by the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies in Millbrook.

Where rock salt must be applied right before or during a storm, brine can be applied up to forty-eight hours before a storm, which also can save on labor.

The Cary study recommends “a 23% salt brine solution to pre-treat roads before the onset of storms. Estimates suggest that road pre-treatment with brine can yield a 75% savings in total salt applied.”

It is noted that brine, while a good solution, is not a perfect one.

Studies note winter rains can wash brine away and into waterways. Brine may not be as effective as rock salt in certain conditions. Rock salt is more effective on ice caused by freezing rain.

In Halifax, Canada, municipality spokesperson Erin DiCarlo noted, “Conditions must be correct in order to apply this liquid chemical to a roadway and be effective. If the storm is forecast to begin with rain, the city may avoid using brine. Also, the temperature can’t be too low, and the humidity can’t be too high.”

It is also more caustic than rock salt and can cause rust on cars and trucks.

As brine sticks to roads, it will also adhere to automobiles. It is recommended to wash cars periodically.

According to ADK Action (Adirondack Mountain Club), which has studied the effects of salt on the environment, particularly in the Adirondacks, brine should be used in conjunction with other methods of reducing salt use, such as precise application (computerized release of salt/brine), listening to RWIS (Road Weather Information System) to plan ahead for storms, making a map of sensitives areas (such as near waterways), upgrading equipment, improved training of plow drivers, educating the public, good storage and clean-up of salt, including the possibility of recycling water from washing plow trucks for the brine mixture, and monitoring and evaluating salt use.

Comptroller Pulver said, “We are putting together the scope of the study now and hope to have that complete early next week. I have already reached out for preliminary information from several sources including Cornell Local Roads Program and Washington County DPW. Once we get the facts, we will be able to make evidence-based recommendations on whether or not to proceed.”

He added, “This is a brand-new study, we’re going to begin immediately, and I’m not sure I can place an exact timeline on an implementation. My office provides oversight and official recommendations. It would be on the Department of Public Works to implement.

“And to clarify, this would be for county roads. We will of course share the results of our studies with local municipalities like Pine Plains, but I have no control over their decision-making process,” he emphasized.

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