The New Hampshire Department of Transportation used 115,980 tons of salt through January. In the backdrop of this winter storm work, there plays out a balancing act between effective road maintenance and limiting salt near water bodies impaired by chloride.
As of 2012, 40 water bodies in the state are considered impaired for chloride due to road salt application, according to the state Department of Environmental Services. That list numbered 19 water bodies in 2008 and climbed to 40 in 2010.
In response, per a state law enacted last year, the state has a new salt applicator certificate. It is voluntary for private snow plow operators, upon completion of the Green SnowPro training program run by the University of New Hampshire Technology Transfer Center.
Perhaps the big incentive for commercial plowers flocking to the T2 Green SnowPro classes is financial: the salt applicators, and property owners who hire them, can get limited liability for damages arising from hazards caused by snow or ice.
Policy makers in Concord were inspired to do something to spur “best practices” for contractors, given their operations on private properties statewide — and sometimes in concert with the state’s winter operations. In one study of watersheds in the southern Interstate 93 corridor and in the Seacoast area, more than 50 percent of the salt load was found to come from private roads and parking lots.
The Green SnowPro classes provide participants with the environmental impacts of chloride, and they cover how operators can best safely and efficiently apply salt, said Patrick Santoso, project manager for the UNH Technology Transfer Center, known as T2.
“Pretty much every course is sold out,” said Santoso, who coordinates a couple each month. A course Feb. 6 in Concord is fully booked. “It’s about using the right amount and not wasting it.”
Most of the salt used by the state is transported from South America via the port in Portsmouth. The state keeps it in storage sheds around New Hampshire.
It continues to be the most cost-efficient approach for slick roads, said NHDOT spokesman Bill Boynton. Salt cost around $24.40 for a ton in 2000, and the estimate in January of this year was $55.33 per ton, according to DOT.
New Hampshire DOT planned to use 183,000 tons of salt this winter season. By the third week of January, the state DOT had spent about $5.7 million on salt.Boynton said the state works to balance highway safety and environmental protection.
Salt continues to be used as the most effective road treatment, though crews do use a brine solution in certain areas, such as along the southern I-93 corridor. The salt spreaders on today’s plow trucks are better, and can be adjusted for width and speed and variable road conditions. In major storms, and when arctic temperatures grip the state, salt can lose its effectiveness, he said.
The traveling public seems to be more open to traveling during inclement weather, a trend DOT has noticed as it warns motorists during storms to stay off roads if they can.
“The expectation level has continued to grow over the years,” Boynton said.