With a Grain of Salt…

It is amazing to see how fast the New Hampshire roads are cleared after a snow storm. Like a scene from a WWII movie, the army is mobilized and brigades of snow plows march across the land in combat against the advance of the enemy.  Their weapons drawn, the plows storm the terrain throwing snow off to ditches. The second weapon follows behind the plows. That is heaps of Na+Cl, good old sodium chloride or better know as rock salt. A little known fact is the state of New Hampshire was the first state to use salt on winter roadways, according to the National Research Council, and they’re darn good at it.

Of course, we had salt trucks in Virginia but, living in a rural area, I rarely saw them. Secondary roads suffered the slow melt and only the hearty residents managed to escape by road. It’s different on the roads of New Hampshire where snow disappears from most roads.

Well, where do our troops obtain this weapon for road warfare? Amazingly, it’s in Portsmouth. It’s hard to miss what is nicknamed the ‘White Mountains of Portsmouth.’ What I first thought was sand is salt,  massive piles of salt at the edge of the Piscataqua River. Once up to 70′ high, piles are mandated to be closer to 34′ after a huge collapse in 2008 that damaged a nearby saltwater pond. The salt pile area has since been stabilized and the pond restored.

Last week I watched a foreign freighter, pushed and nudged by two black and red tugboats up the river that separates New Hampshire from Maine. While I dined nearby, we were entertained by the tugs jostling the freighter into position alongside the piles where people threw out heavy lines to secure the ship.

We learned from the proprietor of the restaurant that the salt is transported to Portsmouth and other Atlantic ports from salt flats in South America. Seems it’s cheaper to transport by ship from Chile and other parts of the world than transport by rail from the American West. Local folks seem proud of the salt piles as amazing landmarks of Portsmouth.

Salar de Atacama is the largest salt flat in Chile.

It’s hard not to be awed by the mountains of salt…. but my thoughts drift toward the environment. How the heck does the company prevent the Piscataqua River or even storm drains from becoming the ultimate destination of saline runoff.  And where the heck does the salt dust go in a wind storm? If a percentage does not end up in the river, it is an remarkable engineering achievement. I do want to know more….


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