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House panel approves certification program for salt deicing applications

Hoping to stem the tide of increasing chloride levels in Minnesota waters, lawmakers could establish a certification program for salt application as a means of deicing.

After several years of stalled attempts, the program now has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood), HF2908 would create a voluntary certification program for commercial applicators through the Pollution Control Agency. The agency would promote best practices and provide training and certification for those who complete the training program. Liability protection for applicators, and homeowners and lessees would also be provided.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill 16-0 Thursday, referring the bill to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.

Its companion, SF2768, is sponsored by Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) and awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

“I think the path is more encouraging this year,” Fischer said. “When it gets to conference committee, I think that, while there might be some little differences between the two bills, I have high confidence that they’ll be able to work it out by the end of the day and we’ll be able to get it done this time.”

Fischer said the liability protections would get a closer look in the judiciary committee. Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa) said he supports the bill and the protections but noted some people might take issue.

“I hope that we recognize, not just in the legal community but a number of other places, folks that are actively trying to push this, that this is necessary, to have some protections built into this language to protect applicators from lawsuits,” Heintzeman said. “We have, unfortunately, a scenario where the threat of a lawsuit is encouraging the massive over application of chloride.”

Fischer said some applicators who have taken training programs related to salt use have reduced their impact by up to 70%. He said there are multiple reasons for elevated chloride levels but the amount being applied to roads, sidewalks and parking lots represents the biggest factor across the state.

Connie Fortin, a senior project manager at Bolton and Menck, said she’s helped developed training programs and written training manuals to accompany the classes. Fortin said one possible alternative for applicators would be a move to liquid deicers from granular products.

“It’s a culture change,” Fortin said. “Like if somebody wanted us to change the way we brush our teeth, we have to know about it. We have to know about the new tools, and we have to maybe have some encouragement and incentive. We have to understand it’s going to be safe and effective. It’s a learning process.”

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