Tester: Air Force to reconsider using chemical treatment on dirt roads

Senator follows up with further questions about the effects of calcium chloride

(U.S. SENATE) – The U.S. Air Force has told Senator Jon Tester that it will reconsider using calcium chloride—at least at previous levels—to treat roads near the underground missile silos maintained by Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Tester secured the commitment during a meeting with Malmstrom’s new commander, Col. Heraldo Brual.

Calcium chloride is meant to firm up dirt roads and make them last longer. But the chemical leaves a sloppy mud-like substance on treated roads that causes problems for farm equipment and vehicles. There are also concerns about the chemical’s long-term health and environmental effects—especially on nearby crops and livestock. 

Tester’s office heard directly from local residents about the issue during a town hall meeting in Moore on Sept. 1. At Tester’s request, representatives from the Air Force and the Federal Highway Administration also attended the meeting.

“The Air Force has always been a good neighbor, and Montanans understand how important it is to keep these roads in top condition,” said Tester, himself a third-generation farmer. “But Montanans absolutely need to be able to work their land and travel our backroads without problems. I appreciate Colonel Brual making this change and look forward to working with him as we seek a solution that’s acceptable to folks in central Montana and meets the needs of the Air Force.”

Tester today sent the Federal Highway Administration and the Air Force a follow-up letter requesting further information about reimbursing Montanans for any costs associated with calcium chloride and whether the chemical poses a health threat.

“What efforts have been undertaken to ensure that this substance will not cause harm to human activity?” Tester wrote. “Does this substance pose any form of toxic threat to animals or agriculture?”

“Right now, there are still too many questions about the economic and environmental impacts of using calcium chloride,” Tester said. “Montanans need more answers and fewer mucked-up roads before we go any further.”

Tester’s letter to the Federal Highway Administration and the Air Force appears below and HERE.


September 12, 2011

The Honorable Victor Mendez                                  
Federal Highway Administration                            
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE                                   
Washington, DC 20590

The Honorable Michael Donley
Department of the Air Force
1160 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330                                             

Dear Administrator Mendez and Secretary Donley:

I appreciate the recent efforts of the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Air Force to address my constituents’ concerns over ongoing road stabilization in and around the missile fields near Malmstrom Air Force Base. And I was pleased to have met personally with Malmstrom’s Wing Commander, Colonel Heraldo Brual, last Friday to share these concerns and to hear from him that the Air Force will reconsider using calcium chloride—at least at previous strength—to stabilize roads near Malmstrom’s missile silos. I appreciate his responsiveness and willingness to work with the affected communities. Nonetheless, I remain troubled by aspects of the roadwork and – like many Montanans – I am eager to see this matter fully resolved.

As you know, the FHWA and the Air Force’s Office of Installations and Logistics – as a partner in the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command – share joint responsibility for the Defense Access Road’s Minuteman Missile Program to ensure that the roads supporting Montana missile sites (also known as defense access roads) remain in top condition. These efforts are necessary to ensure that the military can immediately secure and maintain the most cost-effective and reliable leg of the nuclear triad.

However, these efforts have also brought a host of troublesome consequences to Montana’s infrastructure and agriculture. Specifically, the use of calcium chloride to improve these roads has resulted in a frustrating, mud-like substance on our roads that now affects the daily lives of many Montanans. The use of calcium chloride has raised broad community concerns as well, including suspected impacts on adjacent farmland and ranchland. While I appreciate your offices’ respective responses to inquiries at recent public meetings on this topic, questions still persist:

What are the long-term health and environmental consequences of the use of calcium chloride? Does this substance pose a toxic threat to the health of my constituents? What efforts have been undertaken to ensure that this substance will not cause harm to human activity? Does this substance pose any form of toxic threat to animals or agriculture? 

What plans do your respective agencies have to maintain the roads once the current overhaul efforts are complete? Will you reimburse Montana counties and private landowners for any costs associated with mitigating the impact of calcium chloride?

Will there be any adverse effects arising from the use of calcium chloride in colder temperatures, such as those in a typical Montana winter? What plans do you have to minimize driving disruptions in snowy and icy conditions?

I greatly appreciate your prompt responses and your ongoing efforts to address this matter.

Jon Tester
United States Senator