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Nashua;78.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/bkn.png;2014-07-24 16:00:28
Saturday, February 18, 2012

Several of Brookline’s roads cleared through use of rock salt

BROOKLINE – Road Agent Jerry Farwell uses rock salt on about a half dozen of the town’s most heavily traveled roads, which is a change to an old town tradition.

For decades, the town has had an unwritten policy about using only sand to treat local roads after snowstorms. And at the annual Town Meeting over the years, voters have expressed their displeasure with using salt, citing concerns about possible contamination of their wells.

But town officials have also exercised a hands-off approach to roadwork, allowing the road agent to use his judgment.

“I started using salt on the roads for several reasons: I was frustrated and to balance environmental and fiscal concerns,” Farwell told selectmen recently.

Farwell wasn’t obligated to disclose to the board that he used salt on the roads. But he told officials he wanted to bring it to their attention “for my own peace of mind.’

He said his decision was principally driven by concerns about time and money, and the expectation that roads should be bare after they’re plowed.

Highway crews spent 16 hours earlier this winter clearing the roads after a snowstorm, Farwell said, only to find the next day that the roads were covered with ice and had to be cleared again.

To save time and money, Farwell said, he purchased 5 yards of salt from a Milford company, Balcom Brothers, at $125 a yard.

Farwell said he weighed traffic and the temperature in making his decision to apply salt to Old Milford, Mason, Cleveland Hill, Averill, Townsend Hill and North Mason roads, “the highest-traffic roads in town.”

Salt on roads can leech into wells, contaminating drinking water. In Brookline, moreover, wells are generally shallow, raising the risk and worry.

Concerns about contamination, however, aren’t limited to Brookline, Farwell said.

During a state training session he attended, Farwell said he learned that the quality of the drinking water along Route 93 is “almost undrinkable,” likely because of the high concentration of salt from the roads.

At the same time, “The public demands bare pavement,” he added.

Farwell told selectmen, “Safety has to be number one.”

He noted his decision to salt the roads was based on the habits of all local drivers, not just the ones following the speed limit.

Under certain conditions, he said, salt “really works.”

Selectmen agreed there may be times when salt is necessary.

“Use your best judgment as road agent,” Selectman Darrel Philpot advised.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 302, or hbernstein@nashuatelegraph.com.