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  • 20 Nov 2020 8:19 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The Ontario government is expanding the 511 app to include new winter driving features to provide more safety on roads and highways.

    On Thursday, the province announced that the app will now have Track My Plow that allows drivers to track snowplows and salt trucks on the highways.

    There will also be information on winter road conditions so drivers can see which roads are bare or covered with snow, as well as weather warnings from Environment Canada to alert drivers of upcoming storms.

    Additionally, there will be up-to-date information on rest areas across the province.

    The province added that the app provides images from over 600 cameras and includes up-to-date highway information on construction, collisions, and road closures.

    “Driving during the winter months can be a challenge in every part of the province, and our government remains committed to keeping Ontario’s roads and highways safe,” said Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, in a statement.

    “That’s why we are enhancing the Ontario 511 app with winter safety features that will provide drivers with even more information, so they navigate the best route.”

    According to the province, the winter driving features on the Ontario 511 app build on their plan to improve winter maintenance this year, including an additional 24 Road Weather Information Stations that provide forecasts to help winter maintenance crews prepare for a storm.

    The Ontario 511 app is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

  • 17 Nov 2020 9:34 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    A private members bill protecting small businesses and snow removal companies from lawsuits and increasing insurance rates was passed this week by the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills.

    Bill 118 — introduced by Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller — shortens the period of time individuals who have suffered falls due to snow and ice have to notify a property owner, tenant or snow removal company.

    The committee unanimously agreed to a 60-day notice period, a change from the previous two-year window injured parties had to notify the relevant property owners and businesses.

    In a press release, Miller said the goal of the bill is to reduce the number of “frivolous” slip and fall claims, in turn reducing the cost of liability insurance for snow removal contractors.

    The two-year period, Miller said, made it “very difficult for the businesses to defend themselves as evidence is often long gone, memories have faded and businesses may not even have the same staff.”

    The Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills heard from landscaping and snow removal companies who have reportedly faced increase up to 500 per cent in their liability insurance premiums and others who were refused insurance completely.

    “Ontario has winter,” Miller said. “Snow and ice are facts of life, so it is essential that we have strong snow removal businesses and that their services are affordable.”

    The bill now awaits a third reading in the Ontario Legislature.

  • 17 Nov 2020 7:39 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Randy Aynes said he didn’t mind the dropping temperatures as he sat cross-legged in the snow outside his Hayden home.

    His bare fingers twisted away a nut from beneath a snow plow attachment hovering over him as he worked without complaint, while a reporter’s fingers — cushioned in gloves — wanted nothing more than to be inside.

    “I just haven’t had time,” Aynes said as he replaced the bolt fastened to the blade. “Too much to do at work.”

    The Hayden resident for the last three years has been working construction jobs across Kootenai County. But with the weather starting to turn, Aynes has spent the past three winters using his plow and the mid-90s Chevy it's attached to for providing extra income for his wife and son in the winter months.

    “If this life has taught me anything,” the Wyoming native said, “it’s to use everything you can, every resource at your (disposal). My dad taught me that; I guess that’s why it feels like home here.”

    That rancher’s sensibility has generated what he calls a much-needed profit in the winter months. What started as four neighborhood plows his first season in Idaho quickly jumped to 11 paying customers, a number that drifted down to eight.

    “That first year (during the 2016-2017 winter),” Aynes said, “I was always busy, especially when January and February hit. So the next year, everybody was asking. But then the snowfall wasn’t nearly as bad, so it died down.”

    Aynes gave this interview Nov. 6, as the second notable snowstorm of the year fell on Kootenai County. On Friday, a winter storm brought another load of snow into the area, a wetter snow that made for sloppy roads and sloppier parking lots.

    This winter, local forecasters and scientists are predicting a heavier-than-usual snowfall across North Idaho. While National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predictions give North Idaho a colder-than-usual winter, the Old Almanac’s initial forecast called for more precipitation.

    The National Weather Service predicts both are right: A cold winter with healthy amounts of snow. October proved those models correct, with a record 7.9 inches dropping on Coeur d’Alene.

    The predictions mean a growing customer base for Aynes — for this year, at least.

    “I’m up to 20 driveways,” he said as he lifted himself up and brushed the snow off his jeans.

    Jonathan Nielsen has stood where Aynes now stands. With 14 years behind him running The Masters Land & Lawn Services out of Hayden, he said one secret to starting a snow removal business in North Idaho is, frankly, not putting the plow before the truck.

    “A lot of guys move into this area, they get into the lawn business, they stick a plow on their truck, and they think they’re going to make millions, and it just doesn’t work like that,” Nielsen said.

    Nielsen said that despite Masters’ longevity in the business, the snow removal company sometimes sees the same burdens everyone faces. Sometimes, the snow simply refuses to fall.

    “You never know what the winter’s going to be like,” he said. “Some are super busy, but a few seasons ago, I bought a new plow, some new equipment, and I think the plow touched the ground once. It snowed twice all year.”

    The Masters Land & Lawn’s name has become a bit misleading, Nielsen said. The company dropped its landscaping service two years prior, focusing primarily on snow removal.

    Nielsen said he spends the warmer seasons running two other businesses and doing whatever he needs to do — including flipping houses — to make ends meet, adding that, so long as the weather is right, plowing snow can pay off if you’re willing to put in the work.

    “Back in 2008 or 2012,” he said, “one of those years, it snowed so much, we were working 36-hour shifts. We’d nap for four hours, then work another 24 hours. Sometimes the winters are just like that.”

    The Masters Land & Lawn focuses almost exclusively on commercial lots and residential developments. For commercial parking lots, Nielsen will typically charge between $100 and $120 per plow, depending on both the size and the shape of the lot in question. (Should the lot have an awkward perimeter that doesn’t allow for easy plowing, for example, the cost could run closer to the $120 range.)

    But those contracts have escalator clauses, most notably about the one unforeseeable circumstance that is a running theme in both this story and North Idaho winters: the amount of snowfall.

    “Let’s say we had the basic $100 parking lot,” Nielsen explained. “That price is assuming we get between two and five inches of snow. But if we get more than five inches, that’ll change things. We’d charge $100 for the lot, plus an hourly rate. You’d be looking at an extra $80 to $150.”

    That price falls roughly in range with other plow operations according to some Press research. One charges almost exactly the same price, one charges as low as $80 per lot with escalator clauses, and one charges $150 per lot but with no escalators.

    Residential developments, Nielsen said, can run around $500, but plowing those developments can become problematic in certain circumstances.

    Depending, once again, on the weather.

    “I remember one year, it snowed so much, and the wind was blowing. With this one development — it usually takes us about three hours to plow it all — we would plow, and by the time we were done, gosh, there were foot-high snow drifts that blew back onto their driveways," he said. "The (Homeowners’ Association) called us and said, ‘Hey, you guys didn’t plow.’ And we had to tell them, ‘Yeah, we did. It’s just been blowing snow all morning.”

    Those driveways are the only ones Masters Land & Lawn touches these days.

    As for Aynes, when he started plowing neighbors’ driveways three years earlier — “If you served, or if you’re elderly,” he said, “I’ll cut you a deal” — he charged $10 per plow. That rate jumped to $20 before he decided on a subscription service: $50 per month, come snow or sunshine.

    “This will take a little while to grow,” he said. “But growing a business is like the weather: You just have to be patient.”

  • 10 Nov 2020 7:06 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The City of Vaughan said Friday, Nov. 6 that it's “becoming the first municipality” in Canada to adopt an artificial intelligence tool to apply salt to its roads this winter.

    “This tool will ensure the city is applying the right salt, at the right time, in the right amount, in the right place,” the city said in a release.

    “Using sensors, this tool will take various factors into account — including weather models, Vaughan’s micro-climates, traffic volumes, and road temperatures, moisture and conditions — to inform road winter maintenance decisions.”

    The city described “this innovative approach” as key in keeping “the road network safe, while maintaining fiscal prudence and environmental consciousness.”

    Environmentally conscious observers have long called for salt reduction during winter time, since increased salinity could harm freshwater organisms and contaminate groundwater.

    In 2019, Elizabeth Hendriks, vice-president of freshwater with the World Wildlife Fund Canada, said in an interview that during winter time, “some of our rivers will have salt as high as oceans.”

    Meanwhile, increasing tech adoption is ongoing in Vaughan.

    In September, Vaughan citizens were able to use Quick Response (QR) codes to alert the city about full garbage cans in local parks.

    The Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital — still under construction — is also expected to be Canada's first smart hospital.

  • 02 Nov 2020 8:29 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    After passing the Assembly on Monday, the bill now awaits approval by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury said Cuomo is concerned with environmental issues, and she hopes he will pass it.

    Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, also said he is “optimistic” that Cuomo will sign it.

    “It’s supported by everybody in the Adirondacks,” Stec said. “If I’m the executive and I see that all those groups, both sides, the guys that put the salt down and the guys that hate putting the salt down, are on the same page, there’s nothing to be opposed to.”

    The legislation, which Little and Stec co-sponsored, would create a task force and pilot-program study with the goal of reducing the amount of road salt applied to state highways in the Adirondack Park each winter.

    “When it comes to keeping our lakes, rivers and streams and water wells clean, the old adage of an ‘ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure’ certainly fits,” said Little. “A comprehensive study, including a pilot program, would give us the data we need to develop best practices.”

    The bill is named after the Wilmington town supervisor who died last summer. Preston also served as co-chair of the Adirondack Road Salt Working Group and advocated to limit excess road salt use.

    “This effort was spearheaded by the late Randy Preston, and upon speaking with his wife Michelle, she was elated that his legacy will be carried on,” Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, wrote in a press release.

    Stec said Preston was a man passionate about many issues, but road salt stuck out as one he was especially passionate about.

    “It’s imperative that we strike a balance of providing safety to our residents while addressing the ecological health of our waterways,” Stec wrote in a press release. “A proactive environmental strategy which also addresses the need for safe passable highways is long overdue in the Adirondacks.”

    The legislation passed with a solitary “nay” vote from Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island. Little said she did not know why Lanza voted against the bill.

    A salty problem

    Salt is used to keep slippery roads safer in the winter, but when it runs off into waterways, wells and natural lands its sodium content can have corrupting effects, changing the makeup of streams or making wells undrinkable.

    A 2019 study from the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College said of 500 Adirondacks wells tested, 64% of these downhill from state roads had sodium levels exceeding the federally recommended health limit.

    AWI Executive Director Dan Kelting, a Paul Smith’s professor and researcher, said there was significant contamination to wells downhill from state roads but not to ones uphill, showing that salt runoff was the problem. He said salt poses human health problems in wells, as it can endanger those on low-sodium diets, corrode pipes, ruin appliances and ruin water flavor.

    Kelting said wells near state roads have higher salt content than those near local roads since local government plow trucks use more sand than salt. He said New York’s salt usage is higher than other states that also deal with snow.

    According to an press release from local advocacy group AdkAction, “Each year, over 190,000 tons of road salt are applied to roadways in the Adirondacks, posing a threat to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, water quality, and the safety of drinking water. New York State uses about 2.5 times more salt per lane-mile than county and municipal road crews.”

    What would happen

    If the governor signs the bill, the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force would be a 14-member group of appointed state and local stakeholders. It would research alternatives to salt spreading on winter roads and submit its recommendations by Sept. 1, 2021. A three-year road salt application reduction pilot program would implement these changes.

    Then, for three years from 2021 to 2024, the pilot plan would test these management practices on all state-owned roadways within the boundary of the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park.

    Little said these measures could involve spreading different substances on the roads, using new types of plows that scrape up more salt, changing how salting is done to focus on prevention and removal, having plows drive slower to avoid salt bouncing off the roads, and reducing speed limits in low-salt areas.

    Kelting said solutions may require an education campaign telling people to drive slower on snowy roads.

    Following the completion of the pilot plan, the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation would submit a report to the governor and state Legislature by Aug. 30, 2024, detailing the impact on road safety and water quality in the Adirondack Park.

    Little said there have been pilot programs focusing on this issue in the past and some are currently in place, but this measure would allow larger leaps in research and progress.

    “The good news, as we’ve seen in municipalities such as Lake George where there has been a tremendous focus on this issue, is that newer equipment and utilizing technology is helping our local highway departments do their incredibly important work of keeping our roadways safe while cutting back on road salt usage,” Little wrote. “My hope is that we can do the same throughout the park.”

    If this pilot program is successful, it could be expanded statewide.

    Stec said this will not be a fast fix, but it is a first step in the process of safely reducing road salt. The bill does not allocate money for the study, so the DOT will need to accommodate for it in its budget.

    Kelting said he is encouraged that if the bill becomes law, people from a variety of fields will discuss this issue and look for solutions.

  • 02 Nov 2020 8:14 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Adirondack environmental groups and local government leaders don’t always agree, but both want the state Department of Transportation to reduce the amount of road salt it dumps on roads in winter.

    In September, green groups pressed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign an Adirondack road salt reduction bill. Now about 30 local government leaders are doing the same, according to a press release from AdkAction, a multi-purpose advocacy group based in Saranac Lake.

    “We have a track-side seat at a slow-moving train wreck,” Gerald Delaney Sr., executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board and a Saranac town councilman, said in the release. “The decades-old practice of using salt is coming home to roost. Aquifers are contaminated by salt beyond use. The number of wells impacted are growing every year. Now is not the time for blame; we all benefited from clear roads. I call on the Gov. Coumo to do what he does best: Manage a crisis with science and good decision-making skills. Show the rest of the country New York is a leader. This will be a crisis if we don’t act.”

    It was an easy sell for state lawmakers. The Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act (S.8663a, A.8767a) passed the Assembly unanimously, 141-0, on July 20 and passed the Senate 59-1 two days later. Out of 201 legislators, only Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Republican from Staten Island, voted no. But the bill still needs the governor’s signature to become law.

    If approved, it would establish a task force whose recommendations would be incorporated into an Adirondack Park-wide pilot program to reduce salt use, while maintaining safe roads.

    The bill was named for Randy Preston, a former Wilmington town supervisor who rallied local government support for protecting the park’s waters from road salt until his death from brain cancer last year.

    Roy Holzer, the current Wilmington supervisor, was among the first local government leaders to sign on to urge Cuomo to sign the bill into law.

    “It is often the people with limited resources who are having their wells contaminated with road salt, and they struggle to afford to drill a new well and replace all of their pipes and appliances,” Holzer said in the AdkAction release. “Local efforts can only go so far; we need state leadership on this issue.”

    Longtime Lake George Mayor Robert Blais added, “We have been working for years to safeguard Lake George from salt contamination and we are starting to see some very promising results in terms of salt reduction and also substantial cost savings. I encourage the governor to take what we have learned and apply it across the park to help save all of the other pristine Adirondack lakes and, of course, to protect drinking water.”

    “We all recognize the vital importance of safe drinking water and of protecting our streams, lakes and ponds from the pollution introduced by the excess use of salt on our roads,” said Ronald Moore, chairman of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, Adirondack native and former North Hudson town supervisor.

  • 05 Oct 2020 8:28 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    HANCOCK, Mich. (AP) — How serious is winter in the Upper Peninsula? Road salt arrives by ship. Indeed, a freighter dropped 20,000 tons of salt in Hancock on Wednesday, the first of two deliveries. David Mattila of Mattila Rock and Dock says the salt will be used in five western Upper Peninsula counties. He says salt is bought by the state, dropped at the dock and then delivered by truck. The salt is mined in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. The ship first stopped in Sault Ste. Marie before crossing Lake Superior to Hancock.

  • 03 Oct 2020 10:56 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    This week, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) reported that the April 2019 derailment of a VIA Rail passenger train traveling eastward at 60 mph on Canadian National’s (CN) New Castle Subdivision near Coal Branch, New Brunswick appears to have been caused by a broken rail.

    The TSB also said it was concerned about the lack of requirements to inspect rail crossings for rail web corrosion that could lead to in-service rail failure.

    The VIA train had traveled over the Lakeville Road crossing before the last two passenger cars derailed. The cars remained upright, and three passengers were examined on site for minor injuries. And, there were no dangerous goods involved.

    TSB’s investigation revealed that the rail broke beneath the train as it rolled over the Lakeville Road crossing, causing the derailment. The web of the north rail, which is the narrower section between the head and foot of a rail, had thinned due to corrosion to a point where normal train forces were more than it could handle. The rail progressively fractured under the train.

    The TSB added that due to the long-term environmental conditions at the crossing, along with the presence of winter road salt, the corrosion of the rail web occurred at an accelerated rate. Because the web of the rail was hidden by the crossing surface, the corrosion had not been identified by visual or ultrasonic track inspections.

    For more information, please check the investigation page.

  • 22 Sep 2020 8:49 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    La Niña weather patterns can cause drier than average years in some regions of the United States. In those same regions, El Niño weather patterns can cause wetter than average years.

    You’ve probably heard your local weather forecaster talk about rain or storms caused by El Niño. But have you ever heard of La Niña?

    La Niña, like El Niño, is a weather pattern that can occur in the Pacific Ocean every few years. In a normal year, winds along the equator push warm water westward. Warm water at the surface of the ocean blows from South America to Indonesia. As the warm water moves west, cold water from the deep rises up to the surface. This cold water ends up on the coast of South America.

    n the winter of a La Niña year, these winds are much stronger than usual. This makes the water in the Pacific Ocean near the equator a few degrees colder than it usually is. Even this small change in the ocean’s temperature can affect weather all over the world.

    Rain clouds normally form over warm ocean water. La Niña blows all of this warm water to the western Pacific. This means that places like Indonesia and Australia can get much more rain than usual. However, the cold water in the eastern Pacific causes less rain clouds to form there. So, places like the southwestern United States can be much drier than usual.

    La Niña is caused by an interaction between the Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere above. However, it can have effects on weather all over the world. These changes in the atmosphere can lead to more lightning activity within the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. Also, the environmental conditions during La Niña can lead to more tropical cyclones—which include hurricanes—forming in the deep tropics (near the islands in the Caribbean, for example).

    Thankfully, scientists can predict the El Niño and La Niña weather patterns up to a year before they occur. The GOES-R series of weather satellites can help weather forecasters map the increased lightning and issue earlier and more accurate severe weather warnings.

    In Spanish, El Niño means “the little boy” and La Niña means “the little girl.” They are sort of like a brother and sister. Like many siblings, the two weather patterns are opposites in almost every way. La Niña causes water in the eastern Pacific to be colder than usual. In the same region, El Niño can cause the water to be warmer than usual. Areas that are hit with drought during La Niña years are pummeled with rain in El Niño years.

    Unlike a brother and sister, El Niño and La Niña might not be related. A La Niña year usually happens a year or two after an El Niño year. However, scientists don’t think that a La Niña is always caused by an El Niño.

  • 11 Sep 2020 6:38 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    La Nina, which translates to “little girl” in Spanish, is characterized by cooler-than-average sea temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. It’s considered the antithesis of El Nino, which is distinguished by warmer-than-average sea temperatures.

    CTV’s Your Morning meteorologist Kelsey McEwen explained that La Nina gradually develops when the westward trade winds in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean – the west coast of South America – intensify. As a result, the stronger winds push warm surface water to Indonesia and Australia, which allows for deep, cold water to rise to the surface along the South American coast.

    “It’s called upwelling… all this cold water deep in the ocean basically comes to the surface, and it drops the temperature,” McEwen said during a telephone interview with on Friday. “What that does is it cools the surrounding atmosphere.”

    While this activity is happening in the tropical Pacific, McEwen said it can have a dramatic impact on temperature and precipitation conditions in North America and the rest of the world.

    In Canada, McEwen said La Nina will likely affect British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, and Quebec while the territories and the Maritimes will be less impacted.

    “Think cold and wet, basically, as the big takeaway,” she said. “It’s going to mean likely a wetter-than-normal winter for B.C., for Ontario, for Quebec, in particular, and then in the Prairies, it could mean colder-than-normal temperatures.”

    McEwen stressed that it won’t mean the entire winter will be wet and cold for those regions, but when there is precipitation in Ontario and Quebec, for example, there could be a lot of it and the Prairies might have to deal with some extended cold spells.

    “If 2020 wasn’t bad enough, get ready to shovel,” she said.

    As for the Maritimes, McEwen said those provinces won’t be as affected simply because of their distance from the Pacific Ocean.

    South of the border, La Nina has already made its presence known with its impact on the Atlantic hurricane season.

    McEwen explained that La Nina has been brewing for some time and it results in the weakening of the winds between the ocean surface and the upper levels of the atmosphere or the “wind shear.”

    “The best way to picture it is like corkscrewing in the atmosphere,” she said. “It's wind changing direction and speed with height so as you go higher up in the atmosphere, the wind almost corkscrews and this wind shear is detrimental to hurricane development.”

    An environment with lots of wind shear will prevent hurricanes from developing, McEwen said.

    La Nina, however, reduces the amount of wind shear in the Atlantic basin, thus creating optimal conditions for hurricanes to develop.

    “This is a global impact,” McEwen said. “Yes, it's in the Pacific, but we look at that area to basically define our entire planet, because we're all connected through the atmospheric circulation.”

    The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has already been more active than most, McEwen said, with a tropical storm named Sally expected over the weekend.

    “The fact that we are already at “S” [in the alphabet for naming tropical storms] is unreal,” she said. “And we’re not done yet. We’re going to November so we will likely run out of names and then at that point they go into the Greek alphabet. So it’s a huge year for sure.”

    McEwen said La Nina will likely peak during the winter months before easing in the spring; however, that could change because the atmosphere can be unpredictable.

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