The amount of chlorides deposited by highway crews in the Lake George watershed has begun to shrink at least in part because of the growing use of a salty, liquid solution known as brine.
The contamination of groundwater, tributaries and ultimately the lake itself has slowed, while, at the same, the safety of the roads has remained intact, or has even improved, some officials maintain. All at a reduced cost to taxpayers.
But when the watershed’s source of brine, a manufacturer called StreetTreet, was acquired by another company and deliveries to Warren County and its municipalities were disrupted, local officials, as well as environmental leaders, feared the progress that had been made within the past few years would be reversed.
“My agency was talking to every possible vendor, but the universal response was, ‘we sell every other anti-and de-icing agent out there, but not brine. It’s just not cost-effective to produce,’” recounted Dave Wick, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission.
On January 30, however, Wick said StreetTreet’s new owner, Apalachee Salt, had resumed the production and delivery of brine at a previously agreed-upon price of 25 cents per gallon.
Wick added that Warren County remains interested in creating “a regional road brining collaborative,” manufacturing enough brine to supply its own Department of Public Works as well as municipal Highway Departments throughout the Lake George watershed.
An industrial-sized mixer that would produce a consistent and affordable supply of brine for the area might be eligible for state grants, said Wick, who has discussed that possibility with Kevin Hajos of the Warren County Department of Public Works and Chris Belden of the county’s Planning Department.
The cost of that equipment has been estimated to be at least $250,000 and as much as $300,000.
Logistical questions – such as how the brine would be delivered to each highway garage, how frequently and at what cost – have yet to be answered, said Wick.
“We’re still in the early stages of discussion,” said Wick. “But I’ll be seeking the feedback of every Supervisor and Highway Superintendent in the Lake George Park in order to gauge the level of interest out there in a regional collaborative. It’s an important enough initiative to have everyone in the room and everyone to have a voice.”
Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said The Fund for Lake George was among the organizations supporting a regional collaborative, preferably one based at the DPW garage in Warrensburg.
Another option is to help each town acquire its own brine-making equipment – an option that would be the least cost-effective one, added Wick.
According to Wick, grants enabled municipalities to purchase the equipment used to spray brine along roads and sidewalks.
“Brine is applied to roads in advance of storms,” said Wick. “It helps prevent snow from turning to ice and it impairs the bonding of ice and road surfaces; that’s why it’s an anti-icing rather than de-icing measure.”
Because the solution uses one third less salt than traditional de-icing methods, “you spend a third less. The price of salt is currently $75 a ton and in the past, towns applied thousands of tons per year. So it’s economical. And less salt is getting into Lake George. That benefits the environment,” said Wick.
Although every municipal highway department is independent and makes its own decisions about how best to maintain its roads, “the highway superintendents have been very open minded. They see the benefit of trying a shift in their operations. As a result, we’ve seen a broad reduction in the application of salt across the board,” said Wick.
New York State’s Department of Transportation has begun applying brine to Route 9N as part of pilot project launched two years ago to reduce the application of road salt along the lake.
“Liquid treatments are the most effective because the brine stays put; it doesn’t scatter like road salt,” said Joe Thompson, DOT’s Project Manager for Snow and Ice Control.
According to Chris Navitsky, the amount of salt spread on Lake George roads and parking lots is expected to drop by 50% from pre-2015 levels as early as this year, thanks to the use of brine, live edge plows that conform to roads’ erratic surfaces and more and better data.
“Each of these components is part of a package. You can’t achieve your goals with just brine or just the live edge plows. You also need monitoring systems and a regularly scheduled calibration of trucks so that highway crews have a more precise knowledge of where, when and how salt is spread, enabling them to use salt more efficiently and effectively,” said Navitsky.