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Pittsfield Council Rejects Petition Against Magnesium Chloride
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
12:17PM / Wednesday, January 11, 2023
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Councilor at Large Earl Persip III is requesting a cost-benefit analysis of obtaining the equipment necessary to use magnesium chloride, which is used by the state to pre-treat roads for snow.

Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick takes to the mic to read a letter from a former MassDOT employee backing his position about the roads. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday shot down Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick's attempt to block possible purchases of magnesium chloride in response to the poor road conditions during the pre-Christmas storm

Kronick said there were two major mistakes made in the city's response to Storm Elliot: not pre-treating the roads with rock salt and not putting out an emergency alert about the situation. 

On the agenda was also a petition from Councilor at Large Earl Persip III requesting a cost-benefit analysis of obtaining the equipment necessary to use magnesium chloride, which is used by the state to pre-treat roads for snow.  

It will be taken up at a later date along with a full report on the storm from Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales. 

Kronick feels that magnesium chloride would have "done nothing" to change the outcome of the snow event and saw the purchase as an attempt to hide a mistake. 

"The counselors are proposing to raise your taxes people with a new budget request for purchasing equipment and salt. They are not requesting a cost analysis, cost-benefit analysis, not even verification that the rock salt would have been effective that day and we won't even know because they didn't try but the evidence says that it would have worked," Kronick said. 

"So the purpose of their request to purchase equipment is to cover the trail of the mayor's embarrassment for not one, pre-treating the roads, and two, issuing an emergency alert to let the public know that the roads are unsafe to drive on." 

Though roads are usually pre-treated with rock salt, it was not done during this storm because the rain that came before the snow would have washed it away, Morales told iBerkshires after the storm. 

Up until this storm, the city couldn't justify the acquisition of magnesium chloride or the material to dispense it. 

Councilors were equally upset at the road conditions but felt the petition was premature and even inflammatory.  

It wound up being filed after failed motions to table and approve. Ward 3 Councilor Kevin Sherman, Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio were absent. 

"We all are appalled, disappointed in what happened here," Ward 4 Councilor James Conant said. 

"There's no question that public confidence in this operation is at an all-time low and so I think another couple of weeks, make the report, let's hear what's produced out of this event, then we can revisit." 

Persip said he petitioned to inquire about the chemical and get costs, branding it as information that the council should know when they discuss what happened during the storm. 

"I am too appalled at the response. I can agree that there should have been a snow emergency, there should have been a phone call, we agree on those things," he said. 

"But to accuse us of raising taxes at this meeting right after the tax bill comes out I find interesting, and then not wanting all the information." 

He added that Kronick's talk about his petition not being "political posturing" was nonsense. 

Since the fiscal 2023 budget has already been approved, Persip asked the councilor where he does not want to see an allocation for magnesium chloride appear and Kronick clarified that he doesn't want it in the fiscal 2024 budget. 

Councilor at Large Peter White said the council's job is to look at every issue as it comes before them and that the request is for information only. 

"I will not support this or petitions like this to just blank say we're not going to fund things because we didn't like what happened without actually seeing data and facts before us," he added. 

Warren called the petition a "fool's errand." 

"The fact of the matter was, [Persip] wants more information to help make a proper decision," he said. 

"That's what I want so I'm not going to make any decision about buying not buying equipment, not buying other materials until we get a report." 

Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi pointed to Kronick's presentation of graphs showing the weather conditions during the storm and called the approach "dishonest" and a "misrepresentation." During the event, she compared the conditions outside to the weather app on her phone and found them contradictory. 

Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky said the petition was not clarified enough. 

A handful of people expressed displeasure with the way that the snowstorm was handled and about rising taxes during open microphone. 

Kronick also read a communication from a longtime Massachusetts Department of Transportation employee who he would not name. 

The letter expressed concern about the Department of Public Work's leadership and claimed that salt is the best option for safe road conditions — even when there is rain before the snow. 

Persip observed that when people complain about their taxes being raised, the bigger complaint is that things aren't getting done. 

He heard more complaints about the storm than about the tax bills, he said. "It's not just about the dollars and cents all the time.

"It's about finding solutions where people feel safe, they can go out for the first time, it's the holiday when people are actually visiting their families and it was unsafe."

Also on the agenda was a petition from Council President Peter Marchetti, White and Persip requesting a full report on what caused the poor plowing conditions over the holiday weekend, which will be taken up at a later date. 

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