After weeks of delay, Edmonton city councillors finally decided calcium chloride will not be used on city roads this winter.
Councillors debated the motion and amended the wording again — in the end deciding, in a close 7-6 vote, to pause the program and not use the anti-icing brine on Edmonton streets this winter season.
“We’ll be monitoring results, including traffic safety, but also corrosion and infrastructure impacts on fleets and private vehicles and city infrastructure, and then all of that data will come back for another discussion in a year on what to do next,” Mayor Don Iveson said Tuesday.
The goal is still to get to bare pavement using mechanical means. The initial estimate of the extra cost for that was $37 million, but Iveson said that is weather-dependent.
Deputy city manager Gord Cebryk said Tuesday that was a high-level operating cost estimate and city administration could come back with a more fulsome estimate once the amended motion was passed.
The controversial substance has been a hot topic of conversation since the two-year pilot began in Edmonton.
The solution was used on local roads just twice last year as part of a pilot — far less than the year before.
“This has probably been the most vigorous debate this council has had and so I respect the decision of council,” Iveson said.
“Positions were changing even today still and so that meant the debate, the questions and the answers mattered and were having an impact in both directions. So, after a very thorough discussion, I respect council’s decision and we’ll try it this way for the winter and we’ll check in on the results after next year.”
On Tuesday, councillors Banga, Dziadyk, Esslinger, Cartmell, Paquette, Nickel and Knack voted to stop using calcium chloride. Councillors Walters, McKeen, Hamilton, Caterina, Iveson and Henderson voted to continue using it.
Councillor Scott McKeen voted against the motion, hoping it would give councillors a pause and allow them to re-assess the debate.
“I thought a reset would have been a good idea. Talk about this, talk about a public information or public engagement campaign,” he said.
“I thought we needed one more chance to breathe, have a look at it, maybe continue some pilot calcium chloride use but I’m not convinced that we have come up with the best answer yet.”
McKeen reiterated that residents should buy winter tires and slow down.
“Let’s get our collision numbers way down and we won’t have to use chemical on the road. That has infuriated a lot of Edmontonians,” he said.
Councillor Tim Cartmell did not want to see any type of salt used on the roads but said people are now having more conversations about sodium chloride and its potential impacts.
“Were talking about the variability of standards versus the variability of investments to get to those standards,” he said.
“We’re having… a reasonable conversation about the trade-offs of materials versus standards versus equipment and I think that’s a step in the right direction.”
Councillor Mike Nickel changed his vote from last week, from wanting to continue using the solution to stopping the use of it on city streets.
“What changed within the week is we got a little bit more clarity about how it’s being applied,” he said.
“I was just trying to reduce the harm… What’s going to do the least damage? So now we got to a solution where I can equivocally go to my constituents and say we’re getting it off the road.”
City staff had told councillors that it would cost $37 million annually to clear the roads through mechanical means, such as plows. The mayor had cited the number in a blog post reiterating his support for the solution, but Nickel said he does not accept that number.
“I think that number is bunk. I think that number is not substantial. I think it’s also a piece of propaganda. People shouldn’t throw out those numbers recklessly,” Nickel said.
City administration recommended calcium chloride continue to be used this winter, however, councillors debated concerns with public trust being eroded on this particular issue. Concerns were raised about the potential negative impacts on vehicles, roads and other infrastructure.
Earlier this year, Global News reported about a memo that failed to reach councillors showing the damage calcium chloride could cause to asphalt and concrete.
Last month, Global News uncovered lab data showing calcium chloride, and its corrosion inhibitor, exceeded stormwater and combined sewer bylaws set by the city. The information, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, raised questions about possible environmental impacts.
Councillors were widely expected to decide last Tuesday whether to use the anti-icing agent again this winter. But a mis-vote led to the issue being pushed again to Oct. 8.
Council had voted seven to six in favour of stopping calcium chloride use for the 2019-2020 season and asking for a report from administration next summer about how to achieve bare pavement without using the controversial solution.
Councillors Banga, Dziadyk, McKeen, Esslinger, Cartmell, Paquette and Knack voted to discontinue the solution’s use last week.
The methods that would instead be used on city streets this winter would include salt, sand, plowing and grading. City administration previously estimated it would cost an additional $37 million to use plows to get to bare pavement.
— With files from Global’s Julia Wong