The city may be responsible for spraying calcium chloride to clear Edmonton roads but it says what happens to your vehicle is up to you.
Despite concerns about how the anti-icing agent may be corroding vehicles in the city, deputy city manager Gord Cebryk said the onus is, and always has been, on the driver.
“I think the city does many things to maintain the roadway, whether it’s salt or sand. Each of those can have impacts on vehicles. But it’s still up to a vehicle owner to make sure they are maintaining their vehicle,” Cebryk said.
The comments came after a Wednesday meeting of the Community and Public Services Committee, which discussed the controversial program along with other aspects of the city’s snow-clearing program.
In January, Global News reported on a previously undisclosed memo that outlined how damaging calcium chloride can be on concrete and asphalt. The story prompted city council to discuss the program that same month, which led to this update in June.
During the Wednesday meeting, councillors were told how city fleet vehicles are not seeing any major impacts as a result of calcium chloride and how that may be because those vehicles are washed three times a week.
“Educating the public on what they can do to help deal with winter, not just from a vehicle perspective but from their own property, is certainly a good thing,” Cebryk said.
“We’re not saying you have to wash three times a week but you have to have a reasonable amount of maintenance.”
Cebryk’s comments may be cold comfort for critics of the calcium chloride program, such as Jim Riley, a Red Seal certified automotive service technician.
“Even on my customers’ cars, I’ve noticed in the last two years, vehicles that have been coming to me for several years have definitely started to deteriorate substantially over the last two,” Riley said.
“The only thing that can be attributed to that is the calcium chloride.”
The city only sprayed calcium chloride twice last winter but Riley said even sprays of the chemical from the year prior can have lingering impacts.
“It creeps. It never stops. It just keeps progressing and progressing. It can never be taken out,” he said.
However, Cebryk said anecdotes don’t paint a full picture and reiterated how it is a driver’s responsibility to take care of his or her vehicle.
“Certainly the more you take care of a vehicle or bike or any piece of property, the longer it’s going to last,” he said.
The city points to how the province has been using calcium chloride on the Anthony Henday Ring Road for years. But Riley said the Henday is often dry because high vehicle speeds blow snow off the roads and lower speeds on city roads can lead to wet accumulation of calcium chloride on vehicles, which then creep into vehicle parts.
Chemical engineer Arthur Potts, who also spoke at committee, said he is concerned the city has already made its decision about the calcium chloride program.
“The city appears to be working to justify a predefined direction in regards to calcium chloride rather than letting good science and the facts define the appropriate direction,” Potts said.
“I think it’s because they made a decision to go down the calcium chloride road and they’re now being, in a way, defensive with the reporting and the information they’re sharing about it.”
Global News asked deputy city manager Cebryk whether a decision has already been predetermined.
“The whole purpose of today was to provide an update on a pilot we have underway on how we deal with snow and ice and all the different tools that we need to provide the best level of service,” he said.
“It is important to remember the reason we’re reporting back is so that council has information to make decisions going forward.”
Potts said the harm to vehicles, as well as infrastructure, is well documented and he is concerned about the consequences for taxpayers.
“I realize this is a new topic for Edmonton but these have been problems that have been existing for years. There’s all kinds of information out there that supports [that] it’s problematic.”
He then criticized the city’s lack of transparency around the the program, referencing Global News’ story in January.
“I wonder whether it ever would have come out, but certainly due to some [Freedom of Information] laws, that information was made available,” Potts said.
Potts said that there was not enough quantifiable data in the city’s latest report, but deputy city manager Cebryk said the report is preliminary and there will be more hard data in the final report due in August.
Councillor Tim Cartmell said he is not in support of continuing the pilot program.
“If we know there’s a risk something we are doing is having a detrimental effect on people’s property, then we should pay attention to that,” he said.
City administration typically makes recommendations to councillors, but there was none during Wednesday’s meeting.
“At this point we’re not making any recommendation. We’re strictly providing an update. When we have all of the information available, we can make a more informed recommendation,” Cebryk said.
Councillors will make a decision in August about whether to continue the calcium chloride program.
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