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Road salt is killing Garrett County [Letter]

The Maryland State Highway Administration is destroying Mountain Maryland. During the winter of 2012, the agency applied 48,352 tons of salt on 600 lane-miles of highway in Garrett County. That is more than 80 tons per lane-mile of highway.

During the same winter, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan received 305 inches of snowfall — 50 percent more than Garrett County — yet used only 24 tons of salt per lane-mile. Other locations, such as Minnesota and Maine, used only 10 to12 tons per lane mile during the same season.

I fully understand the need to keep our roadways safe during winter weather, but the third "snowiest" place in the U.S. used less than a third the salt Maryland did while receiving far more snow. Something is wrong with that.

Over the past 10 years, the SHA has contaminated hundreds of wells, deforested countless acres of timber and been directly responsible for the untimely demise of many motorists' vehicles. It is time it was held accountable for the damage it has caused. It's also time for SHA administrators to be held to the same environmental standards imposed on Maryland businesses and residents.

After several letters to state officials last spring, I met with two of them to discuss the issue. Sen. George Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel were kind enough to attend the meeting as well. I provided the statistics along with pictures of dead trees adjacent to I-68 near wetlands, native trout streams and state forest land.

Surprisingly, the SHA officials acknowledged the issue and their desire to "use less salt." I was astonished to learn that neither had any idea how much salt SHA used compared to other states. Nor does Maryland have any method for reporting salt usage on an annual basis as other states do.

Worst of all, SHA has no formal plan for process improvement or salt reduction. The meeting wrapped up with commitments to provide written plans for improvement and operational changes and take up the issue with SHA employees and contractors during the October pre-winter meetings. But to date, neither of these commitments have been kept.

I read recently of the new equipment acquired by SHA. But this is wasted money when one considers that independent contractors, using their own trucks, comprise 80 percent of the SHA snow-fighting force in Garrett County.

Maryland can't seem to find enough money to keep Garrett County's elementary schools open, yet it spent nearly $2 million last year just on salt in the county. Let's get our priorities straight.

Greg Wilburn, Grantsville

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