Edmonton city council discusses calcium chloride use, transparency of pilot program

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WATCH ABOVE: A contentious de-icing agent was back before Edmonton city council Tuesday, days after a Global News investigation into the chemical and its impact on roads and vehicles. Julia Wong reports – Jan 22, 2019

Edmonton’s city manager was grilled by councillors Tuesday afternoon about the controversial use of calcium chloride to keep roads in Alberta’s capital free of snow and ice.

In a meeting on Tuesday — which a city website explicitly said would not broach the merits of calcium chloride — councillors fired questions one by one at Linda Cochrane during what was supposed to be an update on the city’s snow- and ice-removal program.

Debate over the compound was reignited after a Global News investigation this month uncovered a memo from the City of Edmonton containing preliminary results of research that shows the extent of damage that calcium chloride can have on roads and buildings. Questions about transparency around the issue and the pilot project itself were also discussed on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Newly uncovered City of Edmonton memo raises questions about impacts of calcium chloride

Watch below: (From Jan. 14, 2019) The use of calcium chloride on Edmonton roads has been a controversial issue the last couple years. Now, a newly uncovered memo is raising more concerns. Julia Wong reports.

Click to play video 'Memo raises concerns over use of calcium chloride on infrastructure' Memo raises concerns over use of calcium chloride on infrastructure
Memo raises concerns over use of calcium chloride on infrastructure – Jan 14, 2019

Last week, a couple of city councillors told Global News they wanted to know why city administrators did not provide them with the memo so they could make an informed decision on whether to continue the pilot project.

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On Tuesday, Cochrane told councillors the memo uncovered by Global News had to do with a preliminary study, adding that city administrators will wait for a more complete picture of the impact of calcium chloride use on roads before making a recommendation to council. She said evidence is still being gathered and that deciding on what information to provide to councillors is a balancing act.

“There’s no intent to hide here,” Cochrane said, adding that the pilot program data will be uploaded on the city’s Open Data website in August because of all the discussion around it.

City administration also described the calcium chloride pilot project as a trust project for the public, due to all the questions surrounding it.

Some councillors, including Ben Henderson, suggested they weren’t as bothered by not being provided with the memo. Henderson said council was already aware of potential risks associated with calcium chloride use but noted that councillors aren’t chemists and need to be made aware of the pros and cons of using the compound.

“Clearly, on this controversial issue, people want to see every single piece of information there is,” Mayor Don Iveson told reporters.

The mayor also defended the administration’s decision to withhold the memo from council.

“I think sometimes the city is so transparent that when a frankly more incidental piece of information is summarized rather than provided in its full detail, the story becomes that the city was holding back when, in fact, the level of transparency that the city operates with compared to provincial and federal governments is second to none,” he said.

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Councillor Jon Dziadyk said that while he wished he could have seen more information earlier, he is not concerned about transparency with the city administration.

“I don’t think this has affected public trust, in all honesty,” he said. “As a councillor, I would have liked to have had that memo when we were first debating calcium chloride, but there has to be some filtering of information.”

“When it comes to the memo, when it comes to the city, the good news is that it is open now,” Councillor Aaron Paquette said. “It’s out in the open and we can actually have this conversation.

“What’s unfortunate is that it had to come to this to have that conversation.”

Cochrane also reiterated comments made to Global News last week by Janet Tecklenborg, the director of infrastructure operations with the City of Edmonton. She said the research cited in the memo was done in a lab and does not tell the whole story.

Dziadyk asked if the city could make an informed decision about calcium chloride if the pilot project were to be discontinued, adding he believes most Edmontonians don’t support use of the compound on roads. City administrators replied that they recommend the city complete the pilot project before making a decision on it.

READ MORE: Edmonton councillor seeks inquiry after calcium chloride memo fails to reach city council

Watch below: (From Jan. 15, 2019) An Edmonton city councillor plans to put forward an inquiry over why a memo outlining the impacts of calcium chloride on concrete and asphalt was never provided to city council. Julia Wong joined the noon news to explain.

Click to play video 'Edmonton councillor says calcium chloride memo fails to reach city council' Edmonton councillor says calcium chloride memo fails to reach city council
Edmonton councillor says calcium chloride memo fails to reach city council – Jan 15, 2019

The four-page memo discussed on Tuesday was obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Global News. It shows that a 2018 study commissioned by the city found a calcium chloride brine-exposed concrete sample was more prone to early degradation and that it was “roughly 20 per cent more detrimental than salt-exposed samples.”

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It also found there were more detrimental impacts to asphalt pavement treated with calcium chloride brine than pavement treated with sodium chloride.

In the past, the city has said that calcium chloride, which is applied in a thin layer once per snowfall, prevents the snow from sticking to the pavement and that it has a lower freezing point than sodium chloride, making it easier for crews to remove snow from the streets.

The city’s deputy manager, Adam Laughlin, said Tuesday that the memo shows the study determined there was an infrastructure risk posed by calcium chloride use on roads if concrete used to build roads didn’t meet certain specifications.

Iveson echoed that sentiment in comments to reporters.

“At the end of the day, this is more of a concrete quality issue than it is a calcium chloride issue,” he said. “The benefits of the anti-icing may still outweigh, at least for this year — for us to try it — these impacts. And then this just underscores the need, really, to make sure that you get your concrete done right, whether you’re the city or you’re a private concrete owner.”

Paquette said while he’s been against calcium chloride all along, he believes finishing the pilot will provide the city with more data.

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READ MORE: Edmonton councillors to debate snow-removal program after Global News investigation

Watch below: (From Jan. 15, 2019) After a Global News investigation into a city memo about the effects of Edmonton’s de-icing calcium chloride solution, the issue will now be debated at council next week. Julia Wong reports.

Click to play video 'Councillors will now debate Edmonton calcium chloride program' Councillors will now debate Edmonton calcium chloride program
Councillors will now debate Edmonton calcium chloride program – Jan 15, 2019

Other councillors said their constituents have been contacting them to not only express concern about calcium chloride’s impact on roads, but also to garage floors, driveways and vehicles.

At the end of Tuesday’s debate on the matter, council voted to approve a motion calling for councillors to receive information from city administrators about their findings on calcium chloride use. Council will next receive an update on the pilot project in June.

–With files from Global News’ Julia Wong