About two months after the creation of a workshop teaching "best practices" for applying road salt before and during winter storms, nearly 400 private and municipal snow plow operators in New Hampshire have been certified as "Green SnowPros.''
State officials are hoping that with the training, contractors will use less salt as part of de-icing efforts in parking lots and driveways. And by going through the program and becoming a certified Green SnowPro expert, companies gain partial immunity to lawsuits claiming damage due to improper snow and ice removal, officials said.
"I think it's a beneficial course," said Manchester Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard. "Municipalities aren't required to send snow removal equipment operators, but we sent a few people in the fall. It's always a good idea to stay up on the best practices."
Manchester isn't the only municipality sending road and sidewalk plow operators to the training workshop, taught by Patrick Santoso of the University of New Hampshire Technology Transfer Center in Durham.
Of the 371 contractors who completed the workshop as of Nov. 4 - and who are now listed online as certified - 134 are municipal employees from cities and towns across New Hampshire. Communities including Laconia, Claremont, Londonderry, Salem, Chester, Bow, Wolfeboro, Portsmouth, Exeter and Swanzey have all sent representatives to the workshop.
"Our guys came back saying they felt they took home a lot of information from it they can use," said Laconia Public Works Director Paul Moynihan. "I would say it was worth the time they spent there. It's a half-day workshop."
Attempts to pass legislation establishing similar certification programs have been made four times since 2010, but each year those efforts ended in the House.
Last spring, a bill establishing a program was held over by a House committee, saying it needed more work. Senate budget writers drafted language creating the program and added it to House Bill 2, which accompanies the biennial state budget. When Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the budget last summer, the salt applicator certification program was born.
Supporters of the program feel its environmental benefits are many because excess road salt contained in runoff can raise the levels of chloride in streams and lakes near roadways or parking lots.
"The idea behind the bill was if we get more people trained, we can achieve more efficient salt use, so we're not wasting any salt," said Eric Williams, supervisor of the Watershed Assistance Section at the Department of Environmental Services.
"We've felt all along that we could make more efficient use of salt and maintain the same level of service and safety," Williams said.
At a cost of $60 a person - which covers the instruction, materials and lunch - class attendees learn about the environmental effects of chlorides, proper material storage and new winter maintenance techniques, and they leave with an "increased ability to determine how much salt is needed for any given parking lot or private road," according to a flier advertising the workshop.
The first session was offered in September. Another is planned for Jan. 9 in Portsmouth - with a snow date of Jan. 16.
Sheppard said Manchester is taking additional steps to cut back on the use of road salt this year. The department is using a salt brine mixture - a solution of water and salt with a freezing point of 0 degrees Fahrenheit - which can be applied up to three days before a storm and sticks to the roads.
"We've begun putting down the salt brine before snow falls," said Sheppard. "Because you can apply it so far in advance, you can do it during regular work hours, which cuts down on overtime costs. You can tell what roads have been treated because they are darker. We started using it last winter and were happy with the results."
Sheppard said Manchester has $1.2 million budgeted for salt, salaries and snow removal operations for the 2013-14 winter season.