Grand County looks for green alternatives to mag chloride
Public Information Officer, Grand County
Grand County Road and Bridge maintains 724 miles of gravel roads and 77 miles of paved. Applying magnesium chloride to gravel roads saves the county money, said Road and Bridge Assistant Superintendent Bill Clark. “Magnesium chloride postpones the need to resurface roads by several years, saving tens of thousands of dollars in fuel and labor cost.”
Last year, mag chloride was applied to 158 miles of road, and the county hopes to stabilize the same number of miles in 2009. Along with gas prices, the cost of mag chloride has risen over the years from 33 cents per gallon in 1988, to a high of 39 cents per gallon in 2008. Last summer’s application costs were the highest Grand County has ever seen.
The price for mag chloride remains around 39 cents per gallon, the same as last year. The county received competitive estimates for mag chloride from three companies and awarded the bid to EnviroTech Services based in Greeley. Mag chloride travels by rail from production plants located around Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The first shipment arrived in Kremmling on May 1, and work has begun on the west end of the county. Soil stabilization is conducted on most primary roads and some secondary roads. Work should be completed by the second week of July.
This spring, Grand County Road and Bridge is cutting its chloride intake. Since the late 1980s, the county has applied mag chloride to stabilize gravel roads, reduce wash-boarding and control dust. This year, a new product called Durablend will be applied to County Roads 1 and 3. Durablend, by EnviroTech, requires half the chloride per application. Blended with polymer, Durablend is considered a “green” alternative to straight mag chloride because it bonds to dust and aggregate, lowering chloride migration.
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“The Durablend is more expensive, but it requires fewer gallons per application, which saves trucking costs,” said Clark. “According to EnviroTech, the Durablend encapsulates the magnesium so when it rains, the product doesn’t dissipate and remains in the road surface so it may last twice as long.” Durablend is applied at three-quarters-of-the-rate as regular mag chloride, which reduces fuel and labor costs. Mag chloride is 7,000 gallons a miles versus 5,000 gallons a mile for the Durablend. County Roads 1 and 3 equals 27.3 miles of the 180 miles Road and Bridge will spray with Durablend this spring. Mag chloride will be used on the majority of roads.
Mag chloride began causing concern when red and dying trees appeared along roads years before the pine beetle epidemic. The chloride may harm roadside trees by being absorbed into the root system if the chemical is allowed to run off the roads. Grand County stopped using mag chloride as a winter de-icer in 2005. Non-porous paved roads cause more run-off than gravel.
A study conducted by CSU’s Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management examined 60 roadside plots on 15 non-paved roads in Larimer and Grand Counties. The researchers visually surveyed more than 200 miles on 55 different non-paved roads in the same areas and found 80 percent to 90 percent of roadside vegetation was healthy or only mildly damaged. Severely damaged trees were usually found downslope of the road with most damage occurring within 20 feet from the road. Water moves the mag chloride from the road into the ground and trees absorb it through the soil.
Over the years, Grand County has experimented with many new products, hoping to find something as cost-effective and that works as well as mag chloride. Pine tar, animal fat, and an acid base product from Green Market Solutions were all tried with mixed results. According to Road and Bridge staff, the animal fat would cause spotting to the paint on cars, and the pine tar was so sticky it made cleanup of the application equipment and transport trucks almost impossible. Larimar County recently began using X-hesion DC, also by Envirotech, which is a non-chloride product made of organic polymers. X-hesion costs twice the amount of Durablend and three times what mag chloride costs.
“Mag chloride is still the cheapest and best product we have found for keeping gravel surfaces in place for an extended time,” Clark said. “Roads treated with mag will remain smooth up to four times longer than untreated surfaces.”
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