Highway crew brews custom salt brine

BAR HARBOR — Everyone has their late fall to-do list: putting gardens to bed, shuttering seasonal businesses, winterizing homes. For the Bar Harbor Highway Department, late fall means mixing brine.

According to Suzanne Banis, members of the town’s highway crew mix their own salt brine and store it in 1,500 gallon tanks for the winter. It will be applied to roads by plow trucks to keep the snow and ice from bonding to the road surface.

“We’re not the only place that uses [brine],” Banis said. “It’s becoming common.” She said recipes vary town by town; some add molasses or sugar beets to the mixture.

Banis credited Highway Division Superintendent Richard Jamison with starting Bar Harbor’s brine program.

Jamison said the town uses a 23.3 percent salt brine solution: just rock salt and water mixed in large tanks. “We started eight years ago now, with a 55-gallon drum and a paint mixer,” he said. Now, he said, the town can make 3,000 gallons in half a day.

Most of the town’s plow trucks are fitted with a tank to apply the brine solution to the road. It can be applied before, during, or after a storm, Jamison said.

“It does a much better job [than rock salt] at keeping the snow and ice from bonding to the road,” he said. One snow or ice has bonded to the road, studies have shown, it takes much more salt to melt it.

“We actually use a lot less salt per lane mile than we used previously.”

Jamison said that using brine “saves us on overtime, and saves us on wear and tear on the trucks.”

But the real savings to the town has been the sharp decrease in use of sand. Jamison said they only use sand for extra traction overnight if the temperature dips below 15 degrees, which is when salt becomes less effective.

He notes that in the downtown area, from Cromwell Harbor Road to West Street, crews are not able to use any sand, because the department holds a state permit to dump snow in the harbor.

Members of the Highway Department are happy to educate the public about brine, and how and why it is used. The plow trucks with tanks dripping brine on roads before a storm are becoming a common sight, but are still bound to raise questions. “We do get questions and calls about [it],” Jamison said.

Brine is better for vehicles for vehicles, too, Banis said. Brine stays on the road whereas rock salt can sometimes fly up and get lodged in a passing vehicle.

For Jamison, it all comes down to the drivability of winter roads and public safety. He said since the town has been using brine, “we’ve gotten really good response on the conditions of our roads.”

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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