Neighbors provide education on road salt

Lowry Hill East resident Joe Knaeble is leading an effort to educate businesses in Southwest Minneapolis on road salt.

A group of community members in Southwest Minneapolis is working to educate local businesses on best practices around road salt.

The group is canvassing business nodes to provide business owners and managers educational materials on ways to reduce salt use. They’re handing out posters and pamphlets with information such as best practices for clearing sidewalks and how to hire a contractor that uses less salt.

“This is science-based, pretty basic stuff, but a lot of people don’t think about the ramifications of the products they use,” said Lowry Hill East resident Joe Knaeble, who’s leading the efforts.

Knaeble, a master water steward, said he got the idea for the campaign from a meeting with city officials, including Council Member Kevin Reich, who chairs the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization Board of Commissions. He said that Reich and Public Works officials highlighted the opportunities for salt education outside of the city’s larger business districts, some of which already provide snow-removal services.

Knaeble wrote a grant to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District this past year for the salt-education campaign and received $10,000. He and fellow volunteers began surveying local businesses late last winter, discovering that a number were already aware of the issues with road salt.

This winter, the group has been returning to the businesses with its educational materials. They try to leave posters at every business they visit, Knaeble said, and encourage business owners to put them near where they keep their de-icing materials.

The poster goes through best practices for keeping sidewalks clear, such as shoveling and scraping often, selecting the right tools and only using salt on ice. It also covers the negative effects of agents such as sodium chloride, which is harmful to plants, harmful to concrete and corrosive to metal.

Darren Lochner, education program manager for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, said the group’s work is a great example of local citizens coming together to look for solutions to an issue.

A lot of cities have been doing a good job looking at ways to reduce salt, Lochner said, but it’s trickier to build awareness among contractors. People often don’t know the impact that salt can have, Lochner added, noting that it affects infrastructure in addition to water.

“It’s a win for everyone if we work on reducing the amount of salt we’re applying,” he said. “Joe’s group has been doing a great job of getting the message out.”

Contractors often oversalt because of liability issues, Knaeble said. He noted efforts of another group working on legislation to reduce the damage limit for lawsuits filed over salting.

Over 35 people have been directly involved in the education efforts, Knaeble said. That includes volunteers from the Lynnhurst, Whittier and CARAG neighborhoods.

The grant ends at the end of the month, but Knaeble said he hopes to cover most of Southwest Minneapolis.