Roads in Brookhaven Town may cut their salt intake and switch to a vegetarian diet.
Highway workers fighting last weekend’s snowstorm used beet juice to help de-ice a 6-mile stretch of Old Town Road from Coram to Setauket, town Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro said. He said it was a trial run to see if beet juice was as effective as salt for clearing roads covered by snow and ice.
One Brookhaven truck sprayed about 550 gallons of beet juice while also applying sodium chloride, Losquadro said, adding he was pleased with the results. The juice helps to keep melted ice from refreezing.
Some experts believe beet juice is cheaper and less harmful to the environment than traditional road salt.
“We used 50 percent less salt on that truck than we would ordinarily put down,” Losquadro said Tuesday in an interview. “We saw the same results as far as melting power.”
Experts said beet juice — a byproduct from making white table sugar — helps salt stick to road surfaces. The juice also is less harmful to car bumpers, snow plows, rivers and streams.
Brookhaven is one of the few Long Island municipalities to try beet juice as a de-icing agent.
Sag Harbor Village started using beet juice about four years ago, Public Works Superintendent Dee Yardley said. He didn’t use it last weekend because it wasn’t cold enough — experts say it works best when temperatures plunge below 15 degrees.
“The temperatures weren’t there yet,” Yardley said. “The salt brine was just fine.”
Skeptics have raised complaints about the sticky syrup’s odor and its tendency to get stuck on windshields.
David Schiavoni, owner of Riverhead-based East End Organics, said he has been marketing the material for about six years but has faced resistance from some municipalities. He has sold beet juice, which he calls “natural ice melt,” to Sag Harbor Village, condominiums and shopping malls.
He said the juice works by separating water molecules, even when temperatures drop to nearly zero degrees.
“It’s a natural eggbeater,” Schiavoni said. “It keeps water from freezing.”
Schiavoni said beet juice costs about $25 per mile, compared to about $75 per mile for salt. Truck-based sprayers for applying the juice cost $15,000 to $100,000, depending on their size, he said.
He said his company sold about 40,000 gallons of beet juice for this most recent storm, about the same as pre-storm sales last year.
Losquadro said he plans to mix beet juice with salt brine in a future storm.
“I think this is something absolutely worthwhile for us to be doing,” he said. “This material ... you could apply it at half the rate you normally apply and still have it effective in those temperatures.”