Outlaw Body and Paint’s Wesley Jackson, center, testifies before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly about the affects of calcium chloride brine on vehicles he treats during a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Outlaw Body and Paint’s Wesley Jackson, center, testifies before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly about the affects of calcium chloride brine on vehicles he treats during a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

DOT to review salt brine use on peninsula roads

Multiple people, including automotive workers, testified in opposition to the use of the salt brine

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities told attendees at Tuesday night’s assembly meeting that it will review its use of salt brine on state roads before the upcoming winter.

The commitment came from Andy Mills, a special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, after multiple people, including automotive workers, testified in opposition to the use of the salt brine, which they say is corroding vehicles on the Kenai Peninsula.

The department, Mills said, is aware of residents’ concerns and has communicated with the peninsula’s state legislative delegation, as well as Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, about those concerns. In all, six people testified during the open comment portion of Tuesday’s assembly meeting about the effects of the brine on vehicles in addition to Mills.

Mike Arnold was the first to speak before the assembly on Tuesday. Across two petitions — one that was circulated to auto care professionals and another made available to the general public — Arnold said more than 2,500 people have called for an end to the use of a salt brine on borough roads by the transportation department.

“We have done a lot of work on this and there are 2,435 people here in the peninsula that do not want this on their roads,” Arnold told assembly members. “They are very adamant about that and it’s a problem. It’s not going away.”

The assembly also heard from multiple auto care workers, who offered firsthand experiences about the type of damage they are seeing on vehicles that come into their businesses.

Robert Collins described the brine as “basically a magnet” that corrodes metal surfaces on vehicles, including brake lines, suspension components and frames. Cars are significant investments, he said, and corrosion due to calcium chloride can cause thousands of dollars in damage.

“I’ve been in the automotive industry for 22 years and have seen my share of rust in the past but moving to this in the last four years, working as manager of a local shop, I’ve seen more brake line failures, electrical failures, wire harness failures, spring failures than I’ve seen in 19 years,” Collins said.

Anthony Pisa, the owner and operator of Anthony’s Transmission and Automotive Repair in Kenai, reported similar experiences. When going to do a recent oil change on a 2017 Ford F150, he said, the vehicle frame snapped as it was being lifted. He’s also seen problems with calipers and dragging brake pads.

“A simple brake job? That’s a thing of the past right now,” Pisa said.

From assembly members, attendees said they were seeking a resolution supporting restrictions on brine use on Kenai Peninsula roads. That’s per James Harpring, who said during Tuesday’s meeting he was enlisted by the group to draft such a resolution.

Micciche said Tuesday that his office has sent a list of questions to the Alaska transportation department regarding the use of brine on roads, with the goal of getting state data about when and where it is being used. He was waiting for a response from the department, he said, before bringing forward any legislation on the issue.

“I was hoping to get the response from DOT and, if I don’t see any progress, then I was going to request that we all collectively sponsor this resolution and move it forward,” Micciche said. “(We’re) having to do it in a different order, but it would be nice to give the department a chance to see if they just want to be responsive.”

Mills told assembly members during Tuesday’s meetings that the department’s first priority is keeping state roads safe for motorists. During the winter, he said, their goal is to keep pavement bare, which means using brine.

The calcium chloride brine is applied around Alaska, Mills said, and uses significantly less sodium chloride compared to rock salt for the purposes of melting snowy or icy roads.

“At DOT, what we’re focused on is trying to keep roads safe and the primary way in which we try to do that, especially in the winter, is keeping that bare pavement,” Mills said.

While the department has observed generally a lower frequency of traffic fatalities and serious injuries on roads treated with brine, Mills said there is no scientific study on the impacts of brine. He proposed that the department do an internal review of brine use, including studying areas of the state where it is not used, such as in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

That, Mills said, could be in addition to suspending brine use in certain areas to explore other road treatment options. Rock salt, he said, could be an option, but the department would be required to use larger quantities of rock salt than brine and, like sand, strong winds could blow it off of roads.

“I think folks have gotten quite accustomed to bare pavement and don’t know some winters without it,” Mills said.

The Alaska Department of Transportation in a 2012 publication titled “Emerging Practices in Winter Highway Maintenance” explained the reasoning behind its pivot to use of a brine solution. Pretreatment of roads with brine, the publication says, allows the department to take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to road safety by delaying buildup of snow and ice.

The brine used by the department, the document says, is 23.3% sodium chloride and best applied at temperatures above 20 degrees. In acknowledgement of the corrosive nature of the solution, the department said their brine includes an additive that makes the brine less corrosive than salt.

“Corrosion caused by salt and other chemicals is a concern for both the motoring public and the department,” the 2012 publication says. “To address concerns related to vehicle corrosion, the department uses an organic additive in the brine that results in a mixture only one-third as corrosive as salt alone.”

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in 2014 published “Salt Brine 101,” which described brine as new to the department. According to previous Peninsula Clarion reporting, the state has used salt brine on Kenai Peninsula roads since before 2015.

Heading into winter, Mills said that the department has not yet investigated brine use, but that there’s still time. He said he recognizes that peninsula petitioners are asking for a complete discontinuation of brine on roads by the state.

“Let me commit to you tonight that the plan is not to go into winter with the exact same usage,” he said. “Again, we have a number of months before the snow falls and we can pull a good conversation together that should evaluate, if we use brine, where and when.”

Tuesday’s assembly meeting can be streamed on the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Mike Arnold testifies in opposition to the use of calcium chloride by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on Kenai Peninsula roads during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Mike Arnold testifies in opposition to the use of calcium chloride by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on Kenai Peninsula roads during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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