Some snow, some salt, more brine

The day before the season’s first significant snowfall, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors was told that the Virginia Department of Transportation had studied the alternatives to rock salt — as a resolution passed by the board in April had requested — but that it plans no major change to its snow and ice removal policies

At its first regular monthly meeting of 2015 on Monday (Jan. 5), the board also elected its officers and supervisors’ appointments.

No major changes there, either.

In his monthly report to the board, VDOT’s Warrenton Residency manager Mark Nesbit said that after reviewing research on alternatives to road salt, VDOT’s Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research (VCTIR) in Charlottesville “determined that our current practices are as environmentally friendly as possible while allowing VDOT to meet its important obligations to the public.”

Nesbit said VDOT’s road crews had undergone preseason training meant specifically to ensure that salt was not over-applied, however, and had recalibrated its equipment spreaders. (VDOT’s Culpeper district had spread 900 tons of salt this time last year, the report said; so far this year, just 245 tons.)  Nesbit’s report also said the department would be applying more salt brine, the sodium chloride content of which is 60 to 70 percent less than rock salt, and which doesn’t bounce and scatter off road surfaces and into streams and watersheds.

“I don’t know if the board wants to take further action,” said Rock Mills resident David L. Konick, who said he’d hoped for a VDOT pilot program of deicing alternatives in Rappahannock, and whose emails to the supervisors and VDOT officials after last winter’s late snows included pictures of salt-encrusted bridges over the Thornton and Rush rivers near his home.

“The cost is always something talked about — these other other materials are more expensive than chloride-based chemicals, that’s true, but right there on your report . . . is replacement and maintenance of bridges, and if you look at some of these bridges, and the [corrosion of] girders underneath that support the bridges, that’s a cost, too . . . not to mention people’s vehicles . . . not to mention the environmental effects. It may be cheaper now to buy the salt and spread it, but that’s not the only cost.”

The board took no further action. Chairman Roger Welch said later that he believed VDOT and especially VCTIR took the county’s request seriously and had studied alternatives to salt, including beet juice and other organically derived substances, but found they were either too expensive or unproven to warrant further action.

Reorganization, other action

County Administrator John McCarthy conducted the board’s annual organizational session, during which the board reorganized itself exactly as it had last year: Wakefield district’s Welch was elected chair; Hampton district supervisor Bryant Lee, vice chair; Piedmont’s Mike Biniek, the county’s representative to the RSW Jail board; Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier, fire levy board; Frazier, the board’s representative on the planning commission; Biniek and Stonewall supervisor Chris Parrish, public safety committee; and Parrish and Lee to the Rappahannock River Basin Commission.

After a brief presentation by McCarthy, the board took no official action but its members checked their calendars for open dates in March or April for a Community Broadband Forum, to be organized by the Greater Piedmont Area Association of Realtors (GPAAR). GPAAR applied for and recently received a $5,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors to organize what GPAAR’s Debbie Werling said would be a Rappahannock-based public forum on the subject of rural broadband; the event, which would feature speakers (as yet undetermined) from the broadband industry and related community organizations, would take place sometime in spring.

McCarthy also advised the board to expect “long-term budget consequences” of increases in the cost of the state’s Line of Duty Act, originally meant as a way to provide death benefits to the families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty but more recently amended to include long-term disability and pension benefits.

Two years ago, the General Assembly made the formerly state-funded program a responsibility of local governments. Rappahannock’s share is in the neighborhood of $40,000, and recent insurance rate increases will likely raise that amount, McCarthy said.

“The hope was the General Assembly was going to take on its fiscal obligation a little more with this session,” McCarthy said. “But with the state’s current budget woes, that’s probably not terribly likely.”

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 540 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.