Salt Debate

I want to update you on the outcome of the most recent salt debate and City Council and explain why I'm not happy with the outcome.

During our debate in the last few weeks, City Council voted 7-6 against my motion to decrease the total amount of salt used on our streets.  I have said and written in the past that the City’s high-salt strategy was detrimental to infrastructure and the environment - not to mention the metal on your vehicle. I have called for us to look at alternative solutions and practices that will better preserve our public and private infrastructure while keeping our roads safe.  

While my motion did not pass, City Council did vote in favour of Councillor Knack’s motion (another 7-6 split vote) to stop using the calcium chloride salt spray on Edmonton’s winter streets and to bring back a report next year that considers different snow and ice clearing practices and standards.  While this vote is a step in the right direction, I am not happy with the outcome as it means the City will continue to use significant amounts of solid salt this winter.   

For perspective, the salt spray (or calcium chloride) made up less than 5% of the total salt deposited on city streets last winter, whereas the solid salt was at least 95% of the total salt. This is very concerning to me.

 

 

During the debate, Council was also told that if no salt was used to help with snow and ice this winter, then $37 Million more would be needed each year.  Respectfully, I have a hard time making sense of that number. It seems implausible to me. I have asked for more information on where the $37M in extra costs would come from and I will share that with you when I get an answer.

We know that salt is harmful to the environment, rusts vehicles, damages infrastructure and corrodes steel bars in reinforced concrete.   

15 years ago, I was retained as an engineer to design repairs to the floor of a heavy-duty maintenance shop in Edmonton (see picture). In my 30 year career, I did a lot of these kinds of projects leading to my expertise in the design, maintenance and repair of concrete structures. The damage to this floor was NOT caused by calcium chloride but salt was a factor in its deterioration. 

 

 

 

I have heard your concerns these last 2 years and I share them.  I have heard your dismay that Administration’s reports do not match what you are seeing with your own eyes.  

This winter, while the calcium chloride spray will not be used on our streets, laying down very large quantities of solid salt will continue. The concern about salt is not over simply because calcium chloride will not be used this winter.  We still have work to do.

It is important that Council weighs the costs and benefits of using salt, in whatever form, to clear our streets.  The benefits are reduced collisions, many of them minor. The costs are to the environment, to city infrastructure which you pay for in your taxes, and to the private property of Edmontonians (cars, driveways, etc).  Getting this balance right is important and I will continue to ask hard questions and make sure that the balance struck is based on good information. 

Please be vigilant in your observations this winter and be sure to let your Council representatives know what you see.  Your feedback will be an important part of what Council decides to do going forward.

 

**Part of the problem with this debate is that when some councilors say salt they mean different things. In chemistry, lots of different things are called "salts" that includes:

 

  • NaCl Sodium Chloride (the salt we eat) which is the solid rock salt mixed with sand that the City has started using in ever increasing amounts
  • CaCl Calcium Chloride which in this case is the liquid salt spray solution which the city has been experimenting with the last few years

 

Tim