Earlier this week, members of St. Marys City Council voted to authorize members of the city's staff to conduct a study looking into the possibility of using brine instead of limestone for anti-skid control during the winter months. The idea was initially proposed by city councilman Bob Roberts, who immediately clarified for council members and attendees what he meant by brine.
"When I say 'brine,' I'm not talking about anything coming from the Marcellus shale developments," Roberts clarified. "Please understand, we're talking about the use of calcium or whatever type of salt is approved for this project."
Roberts indicated that the state is already using brine to treat roadways and noted that, according to materials he has read, it is more environmentally friendly than the use of gravel, which has many shortcomings. Roberts explained that gravel is slow to melt, gets plowed off of roads into residents' lawns and driveways, poses dangers to drivers by making it difficult to stop when enough of the material collects at the city's intersections, and requires a significant investment of fuel and manpower to be removed from the city's streets each spring.
Street Superintendent Steve Samick also addressed council members regarding the use of brine, explaining that the road crew specifically planned to explore what is known as pre-wetting of material.
According to PennDOT's website, that organization "pre-wets roads with salt sprayed with liquid magnesium chloride to enhance its melting capability in extremely cold temperatures. Pre-wetting also reduces the amount of salt spread during a storm, since larger quantities of dry salt are needed to de-ice a road in temperatures below 20 degrees."
"The theory behind pre-wetting is you do not lose as much of the material. When it's placed on the road it stays on the road," Samick said.
He added that even if the city did opt to utilize a pre-wetting process, it would not mean that it would completely do away with the use of anti-skid.
"I can't tell you that we would never use anti-skid on any paved roads again, because that may not be true. It depends a lot on the weather and the storm conditions," Samick said.
He noted that the use of a brine solution is regulated, with a prescribed amount being placed on a roadway based on factors such as the speed of vehicles in that area.
According to Samick, the brine would replace the anti-skid that is commonly mixed with salt.
"As an example of that now, usually we mix between (a ratio of) 2:1 or 3:1," Samick said.
He indicated that, based on materials he has read, the city could save around $10 for every mile of paved road if they make the switch from anti-skid to brine.
"That may vary. It may be more, it may be less," Samick said.
Samick also cautioned council members not to confuse the process with anti-icing.
PennDOT's website explains that it "utilizes an anti-icing program by applying liquid magnesium chloride, liquid calcium chloride or salt water to the road before snow starts falling. This is done to prevent precipitation from forming a strong, icy bond with the pavement."
"Anti-icing is a different setup and is done before a storm. Mostly anti-icing is just putting a brine down on the road and we have nothing that can be set up to do that," Samick said.