Konick: ‘Poison’ runs off into Thornton
At the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors’ snow-delayed monthly meeting last Wednesday afternoon (March 5), Stonewall-Hawthorne resident David Konick spoke to the board about exploring other chemical compounds to help melt the snow that was still adorning parts of the county roads.
Konick, who lives on the Thornton River in Sperryville, pointed out that the county spends a lot of money to help carefully manage runoff into the Thornton, and yet allows the Virginia Department of Transportation to spread “tons of, what I would describe as ‘poison,’ on the roads to help melt the snow. All that salt is very toxic.”
Konick pointed out that while the salt is certainly effective at clearing the snow, much of the excess never completely dissolves and gets washed away during a storm — dumping large amounts of sodium chloride into the rivers and even potentially degrading county bridges.
“I know you can’t tell the state what to do,” Konick conceded, “but they’ll at least listen to the board of supervisors.”
Furthermore, Konick pointed out that tests show salt loses much of its effectiveness when temperatures drop below 20 degrees — as they have several times during this especially cold winter. In those cases, the substance can’t even properly do its job, and becomes a hazard with no reward.
Konick also presented the board with two news stories advocating the use of substances other than salt to help clear the roads, including test programs in Pennsylvania and Missouri where their departments of transportation are now coating the roads with a combination of beet juice and salt brine, dubbed “Beet Heat.” According to the MoDOT, the beet juice has already proven better at melting ice and snow in lower temperatures than old-fashioned salt.
Konick also proposed using less salt in general, so as to eliminate much of the excess runoff and suggested Rappahannock could perhaps be used as a pilot program for alternative ice-melting solutions.
“I’m not aware of any problems [with road salt], either in this or any other county,” said Virginia Department of Transportation representative Mark Nesbit. “There are alternatives being tested . . . but until a new, viable, tool is found, we’re going to continue to use [salt].”
At its evening session Wednesday, the supervisors approved several amendments to the county’s trash ordinance.
To an audience of just one, county attorney Peter Luke, who originally proposed the amendments in November, explained that the amendments predominantly focused on solid waste removal and inoperable vehicles on private property. Luke also said he added an “innocent property owner” provision, which protected owners who had trash unknowingly dumped in their yards by other people.
“Just saying that something ‘doesn’t look nice’ isn’t enough,” Luke reiterated. “It has to endanger public health and safety.”
Luke explained that property owners are currently allowed up to two inoperable vehicles on their property, provided they own more than an acre of land. Luke said he’d added language that said the vehicles must be visible from a neighboring property (or a road) and, at several supervisors’ insistence in December, exempted vehicles kept solely for spare parts.
As County Administrator John McCarthy explained, the new ordinance is designed to allow the forcible clean-up of a particularly debris-filled yard. Any clean-up complaint first comes to McCarthy; if the landowner fails to rectify the problem, upon approval from at least three of the supervisors and at cost to the landowner, the property can then be cleaned up.
“As a practical matter, I don’t think this is a hammer you’ll put down very often,” said McCarthy, who added that nearby counties who have a similar provision, such as Madison, only use it in extreme circumstances.
The 14-minute evening meeting (a near record, McCarthy pointed out) concluded with the supervisors unanimously approving Luke’s amendments, 5-0.