State looks into salt brine concerns on the Kenai Peninsula following petition

a snowy road
A snowy winter road on the Kenai Peninsula. (Riley Board/KDLL)

A Kenai Peninsula man and many local automotive workers are asking the Alaska Department of Transportation to reconsider its use of salt brine on Kenai Peninsula roads, which they say makes them slick and can cause premature damage to vehicles. DOT said in response to those concerns, it will look into the issue.

The salt brine is a mixture of water with 23.3 percent sodium chloride. It’s a pre-treatment strategy that DOT uses for deicing roads.

Mike Arnold said he’s been concerned about the road brine for years, since he observed its relationship to slick, icy roads. Then, he said, he started noticing damage like rust to his car. He also has environmental concerns about the runoff of the brine into rivers, yards and habitats.

Arnold started a petition in March, and began by reaching out to automotive workers. Then he turned to the broader public. He said today, the petition has more than 3,000 signatures.

Once he started talking to automotive workers, Arnold said, he developed other concerns about damage to airbags and bakelines.

“So I went to all the mechanic shops between Sterling and Nikiski, took me all day long, and I had 60 professionals sign that petition, just in this area,” he said.

Earlier this month, he presented the petition in front of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, and said thousands of locals want to see an end to the use of brine on DOT-managed roads.

At the assembly meeting, local automotive workers also testified about the impacts they’ve observed on vehicles. Autoshop operator Robert Collins said the brine’s corrosive nature can cause dangerous damage to safety features, and has cost his customers thousands.

“I’ve been in the automotive industry for 22 years, and I’d seen my share of rust in the past,” Collins said. “But moving to the peninsula in the past four years, working as a manager of a shop, I’ve seen more brake line failures, electrical failures, wire harness failures, frame failures, than I have in 16 years.”

Arnold’s hope is that DOT will consider an alternative like the one used on Anchorage roads: a warmed gravel without any salt.

Later in the assembly meeting, DOT legislative liaison Andy Mills thanked Arnold and others for their testimony, and said he would look into the issue. He said the department will begin with an internal review of use of the substance.

“The bottom line for DOT is we want to keep roads safe, with sand and other mechanisms. But we also obviously need to listen to the community about the concerns that they have,” he said. “So I will look forward to the written comment, and working with local leadership and citizens there to try strategies that address those concerns.”

Mills said since that meeting, DOT has been doing internal research on how the salt brine is used by DOT and other entities in the state. He plans to present the agency’s findings at the assembly’s Sept. 19 meeting in Homer, so that action can be taken before the winter season if necessary.

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