Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed into law the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act – a bipartisan bill that is expected to 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. Proponents of the new law say that highway safety remains the top priority.
The Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States and is the largest intact, temperate deciduous forest in the world. It also includes 130 small, rural communities alongside protected wild lands 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. Advocates of the law say lessons learned in the Adirondacks can be applied statewide in the years ahead.
The road salt bill was named in honor of the late Randy Preston, who served as Wilmington Town Supervisor until his untimely death from brain cancer a year ago. Preston helped to rally local government support for protecting the park’s drinking water, lakes and rivers from road salt.
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 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.
Photo of Plow Truck courtesy NYS DOT.