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State action on road salt reduction is long overdue in the Adirondacks

We are glad the Adirondack Park’s elected representatives — Republican and Democratic alike — and advocacy groups prevailed over the state Department of Transportation and convinced the governor to sign a road salt reduction bill the Legislature had passed almost unanimously in July. Still, it must be pointed out that this is truly a baby step at a time when grown-up action is needed.

This law commissions a task force to study how to reduce road salt use in the Adirondacks — and more importantly, compels the DOT to enact that study’s recommendations, something the department was resisting, according to state Sen. Betty Little. That’s good, but many salt reduction methods are already well known and acknowledged by DOT.

Research by the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College clearly lays out the damage the DOT’s heavy-handed salt use does to people’s wells — and thus to their drinking water, plumbing and appliances — as well as to animals and plants. AWI’s research also clearly shows the same problems don’t exist on roads maintained by towns and counties, which use much less salt.

We also want to point out an obvious thing none of these officials seems to address: Road salt rusts out our cars and trucks.

Go to places that don’t use road salt, and you’ll discover a Jurassic Park of cars, from heavy-duty American classics to ’80s Japanese vehicles with great engines but lighter steel. In these places, with loving care, they can last as long as their engines and transmissions do — but here in salt country, it’s out of our hands. Ten to 20 years is the limit — and often less — before the salts rots them out beyond redemption.

Consider this comment that Bob Bevilacqua, a well-respected mechanic and owner of Carcuzzi Car Care Center in Saranac Lake, posted on the Adirondack Daily Enterprise Facebook page this past weekend: “In the last week I had 4 cars in the shop that had to be thrown away because of rust holes in the chassis and frame(:) a 07 Subaru Impreza, 12 Honda Fit a Silverado 2010 and an 07 caddy deville.” He added, “it’s about time they reduced the amount of salt.”

We love and respect the Enterprise’s regional traffic safety columnist Dave Werner, but when he recently wrote columns about how salt use costs the taxpayers a little less per lane mile than sand, we told him he was only taking into account the costs to government. What about salt’s costs on everyone’s vehicle — on government vehicles, too, including the DOT’s own plow trucks. Why do you think we replace school buses every three in the North Country? They’re not cheap, either.

Road salt is a tax on every vehicle. It definitely has its place as an effective ice melter and traffic safety tool, and we’re not calling for it to be eliminated by any means. But the DOT uses way too much of it and has resisted cutting back for too long. All of us — plants, animals, well users and vehicle owners — are paying a high price for that.