Study leads Snowmass to curtail use of de-icer |

Study leads Snowmass to curtail use of de-icer

Sarah S. Chung

Before calls to ban or cut back on the use of magnesium chloride in Aspen and Basalt made headlines this winter, Snowmass Village went quietly about curtailing its use of the controversial de-icer last fall.

After reviewing the town’s own study on the impacts of the chemical compound, the Town Council may soon take a more formal position on the use of magnesium chloride.

The study involved the analysis of soil samples taken along Brush Creek Road, the main corridor into town. Brush Creek flows alongside the road.

Due to the limited scope of the sampling – three core samples were collected – town officials are hesitant to call the effort a “study.” Still, the initial findings and the town’s concerns were enough to prompt Snowmass Village to cut back on its use of mag chloride weeks before the town of Basalt enacted its ban on the substance.

“We instructed the staff to use as little as they felt comfortable with, to help prevent serious ice packing at intersections,” said Mayor T. Michael Manchester.

In fall of 1997 and spring of 1998, the town conducted soil tests to compare the difference in samples before and after a season of using the de-icer.

According to town environmental planner John McCarty, the findings led to more questions than answers. But one conclusion McCarty was able to reach, he said, is that negative long-term impacts cannot be dismissed.

“We know that salt in soil and water is a real serious issue. And as it builds up in the soil, it could affect the soil’s ability to retain water, and dehydrated soil contributes to soil erosion and pollutes the stream,” McCarty said. “But we also know abrasives [such as sand] also pollute the stream. So right now we’re trying to determine which is the lesser of two evils.”

With last winter’s testing “nothing definitive” was determined, McCarty said. However, due to the de-icer’s potential long-term impacts, its use and effects warrant continued monitoring, agree both town staff and Town Council members.

“We definitely want to know more,” Manchester noted.

But for Councilman Jack Hatfield, the unknowns associated with mag chloride’s use should be enough to call for the immediate discontinuance of the product.

“I want to ban it. I think it’s an environmentally dangerous product and would prefer to err on the side of safety,” Hatfield said. “If we don’t know what’s in it, I certainly don’t feel good about it being airborne after it dries up on the road.”

Aside from its directive to reduce use of the substance, the Town Council has not taken a formal position on mag chloride. But staffers say they expect some action from the council on the issue in the coming weeks.

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