For safety, Warwick fine tunes road salt practices

  • The Warwick Highway Department on Garage Road. Jan. 12, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Warwick Highway Department tried using just sand on town roads on Dec. 11, 2017, with disappointing results. This photo shows Route 78 looking south from North Holden Road. Contributed photo

Recorder Staff
Friday, January 12, 2018

WARWICK — High sodium levels in Warwick’s well water has got the Highway Department re-examining its road salt practices. Its most recent idea? Investing in treated road salt.

Highway Superintendent Larry Delaney explained that, following discussion with the Selectboard, his department tried different methods to take care of the roads this winter season with varying degrees of success, including using straight sand, decreasing the amount of traditional dry rock salt-sand mixture used, and implementing segmented plow blades.

“It’s all a matter of choices,” Delaney said. “I want to do what works the best, for the least amount of money, and keeps people safe.”

During a Jan. 2 meeting, the Selectboard encouraged Delaney to try a load of treated road salt. Such salt, which is pre-treated with either a magnesium chloride liquid or a calcium chloride liquid, Delaney said, is effective at lower temperatures than the salt-sand mixture used for the last year. Warwick’s rock salt becomes less effective at around 15 to 20 degrees, whereas treated salt would work to around 0 degrees.

Treated salt, he continued, is 20 percent more effective than rock salt, but also 20 percent more expensive. Whereas Warwick currently pays $57.75 for a ton of rock salt, treated salt costs $73 per ton. Delaney said he ordered salt treated with magnesium chloride, rather than calcium chloride, as it is less corrosive, but the delivery hadn’t arrived as of Thursday.

The Highway Department’s snow and ice budget for this fiscal year is $102,200, Delaney said, though weather in recent years has necessitated additional end-of-year funding.

Opting for treated salt is the Highway Department’s most recent experiment, with a goal reducing sodium in residents’ wells while still maintaining safe roads. The well issue arose last spring, Delaney said, and has been a topic of discussion in town ever since.

In early December, a Salt in Drinking Water Committee was formed as an advisory board to the both the Selectboard and Highway Department, according to committee Chairman Ted Cady.

Cady recounted how about 10 years ago, the town had a no salt policy, but it faded away as management changed.

“If you think of peaks and troughs, we’re sort of at a peak of using salt,” he explained.

The result has been high sodium levels in residents’ drinking water, Cady continued, with some residents resorting to drinking bottled water.

The first proposal, Delaney said, was to abandon salt altogether and use only sand. During the Dec. 4 storm, Delaney said he tried straight sand with disappointing results.

“Salt keeps snow from binding to the road,” he explained. By using just sand, the snow is harder to plow off, and the sand is later blown off the road by passing cars.

“It was dangerous,” he said, adding he could see where cars were sliding.

The Highway Department’s practice is to use sand on Warwick’s dirt roads, but even that can prove difficult in below-zero temperatures, Delaney said.

“The straight sand, it actually becomes a safety issue for the workers,” he said, recalling how sand froze inside the Highway Department’s two trucks on Jan. 5. When the sand clumps, drivers often climb on top of the trucks to stomp it through the screens, Delaney continued.

During the Christmas storm, the department tried using about 30 percent less of the sand-salt mixture with more favorable results.

“Through the center of town, I’ve reduced it even lower than on the rest of the roads,” he added, given the proximity to wells.

Having segmented plow blades, which were installed in time for last week’s storm, helped clear the roads of more snow, Delaney continued, as the blades better mold to curves in the road.

Other options include adding calcium chloride flakes, which didn’t seem financially feasible to Delaney given it costs twice as much as pre-treated salt and would require mixing and storage, and investing in a calcium chloride liquid called Safe Melt. To use Safe Melt, Delaney said the Highway Department would need storage tanks for the liquid and spray equipment for the trucks.

Meanwhile, Cady said the Salt in Drinking Water Committee purchased a salometer to measure salt in the drinking water, and hopes to test how the town’s changing procedures impact sodium levels. Cady said the committee hasn’t decided yet how to collect water samples, whether that means asking residents to bring them to the Transfer Station on Saturdays or having the committee go door-to-door.