County considering beet-based brines for snow management

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | County Legislator Kara Hahn introduced a bill aimed at examining the benefits of using beet-based brines, like the one above manufactured by East End Organics.

With snowfall totals soaring this winter season — and another storm on the way — area highway crews have been coating the roads with mixtures of salt and sand, but those mixtures are only so effective once temperatures dip below 20 degrees, according to town highway superintendents. 

Coating roads with salt also poses environmental effects — as it can find its way into nearby estuaries and corrode infrastructure.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has sponsored a bill looking at a more effective and environmentally sensitive option for keeping county roads clear — using beet-based brines.

“For the most part, traditional salt brines are largely ineffective below 20 degrees,” Ms. Hahn said. “However, a beet brine will work at temperatures as low as 25-below zero and is safer for the environment. At the very least, the potential of this alternative should be investigated.”

The bill would authorize a feasibility study of using beet-based brines to help keep the roads clear.

If adopted, the Department of Public Works would have 90 days to evaluate using such brines, including the costs associated, supply and environmental impacts associated with changing treatments.

The North Fork area saw 25.2 inches of snow last month alone, significantly higher than the 6.7-inch average for January, according to the National Weather Service — which has reported temperatures plunging below the 20 degree mark most evenings.

George “Gio” Woodson, Riverhead Highway Superintendent said if the advantages are proven, he might consider using it within the town, however “cost is everything.”

“We’ve never used the beet brines, we use the salt water brines — it may work, but I haven’t really tried it,” he said.

So far this winter, roughly 1,600 tons of salt have been used on Riverhead’s roads, he said.

Southold Highway Superintendent Vincent Orlando said that as of now the town has not experimented with using beet brines, either.

“I think it’s a nice alternative to look at, as opposed to the salt we’re using now,” Mr. Orlando said, adding that Southold was able to get a sample of brine to look at.

Since Jan. 1., Southold has used about 940 tons of salt and 27,000 cubic yards of sand — which has used up nearly 60 percent of the budget set aside for salt.

Mr. Orlando said the feasibility of the brine would depend on cost and availability.

The New York State Thruway Authority began using a sugar beet juice brine a few years ago, according to a release from the Governor’s office.

The brine is used to pre-treat roadways, helping prevent ice from forming — and can reduce the need for overtime staffing, according to the release.

The state budgeted for about 100,000 gallons of the beet brine mixture for this year, according to the release.

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