Cumberland Times-News

December 3, 2013

State uses too much salt on Garrett roads

To the Editor:
Cumberland Times-News

— Let me state the facts. In the winter of 2012-13, the Maryland State Highway Administration applied 48,352 tons of salt on 600 lane-miles of highway in Garrett County.

That is nearly 80 tons per lane-mile of state highway.

 During the same winter the Upper Peninsula of Michigan received 305 inches of snowfall (50 percent more than Garrett County), yet used only 24 tons per lane-mile.

Other locations such as Minnesota and Maine used approximately 10 to12 tons per lane mile during the same season.

I fully understand the need to keep our roadways safe during winter weather, but the third “snowiest” place in the United States used less than one-third the salt while receiving far more snow. Something is wrong with that.

After several letters to state officials last spring, I met with Anthony Crawford (SHA district engineer) and Rick Cosner (RME, Garrett County) to discuss the issue. Senator George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel were kind enough to attend this meeting as well.

I provided the statistics above along with pictures of dead trees adjacent to Interstate 68 near wetlands, native trout streams, and state forest.

Surprisingly, Mr. Crawford and Mr. Cosner acknowledged the issue and the desire to “use less salt.”

I was astonished to learn that neither had any idea how much salt SHA used, how much other states used, or any method of reporting salt usage on an annual basis (as these other states do).

Worst of all, MD SHA has no formalized plan for process improvement or salt reduction. The meeting wrapped up with Mr. Crawford committing to provide written plans for improvement and operational changes to myself, Sen. Edwards, and Delegate Beitzel.

He further committed to cover the issue with SHA employees and contractors during the October pre-winter meetings.

To date, neither of these commitments has been kept. Yes, I read the recent article a few weeks ago about the new equipment acquired by the SHA.

This is wasted money when you consider that independent contractors, using their own trucks, comprise 80 percent of the SHA snow fighting force in Garrett County.

Recent snow events have demonstrated that absolutely nothing has changed. After a few inches of snow, so much salt was used on I-68 that it was left covered in a thick, white residue.

Traffic kicks up this residue into a salty dust cloud that hangs in the air. This highly corrosive plume settles on nearby forests, streams, businesses and residences. Have you seen this in any other state?

Over the past 10 years, the SHA has contaminated hundreds of wells, deforested countless acres of timber, and is directly responsible for the untimely demise of your vehicle.

It is time they are held accountable for the damage they have caused. It’s also time for SHA administrators to be held to the same environmental standards imposed on Maryland businesses and residents.

Our state can't seem to find enough money to keep Garrett County elementary schools open, yet spent nearly $2 million last year on salt alone in Garrett County. Let’s get our priorities straight.

It's time for us to draw the line, and high time that SHA is held accountable for their poor practices. Please contact your state representatives and the SHA district office at 301-729-8485 to voice your concerns.

Greg Wilburn

Grantsville