The following profile was prepared by The FUND for Lake George prior to its 2021 merger with the LGA.
Paul Vanderzon has been cleaning up snow and ice from roads and driveways since he was 12 years old, working for his father’s landscaping and snow removal business in a suburb of Montreal. He’s gone on to become one of the most respected experts in the North American snow removal industry, first running the family business alongside his brothers, Tony and John, and more recently, as a territory manager for Quebec-based plow manufacturer and innovator Metal Pless.
But of all the wintry roads he’s helped manage over the past 40-plus years, Paul takes special pride in the role he has played keeping roads around the Lake George basin safe while keeping harmful road salt out of the Lake.
Paul and Metal Pless are key partners in the Lake George Road Salt Reduction Initiative being led by The FUND for Lake George
Research by The FUND and its science-based partners has found road salt to be one of the most serious threats to the long-term health of Lake George and its tributaries. Once applied, salt dissolves and is carried into surface waters through stormwater runoff, or leaches directly into groundwater. Upon entering the groundwater and surface waters, salt can build up to the point where it negatively impacts drinking water supplies, as well as the health of fish and other aquatic wildlife, insects and plants.
Since its launch in the winter of 2015, the Lake George Road Salt Reduction Initiative has become the most advanced salt-reduction effort in North America — reducing the amount of salt applied to local roads by as much as 50% and, in turn, reducing the amount that finds its way into the Lake, its tributaries and local drinking water supplies.
“The FUND said, ‘We need to do something now to change the way we apply salt and change the impact salt has on the Lake and the groundwater and drinking water.' They by-passed the let’s-study-this-for-five-years approach and said, let’s act now.”
Paul helped kick off the Initiative by arranging for Metal Pless to loan two of its innovative LiveEdge plows to local municipalities for a season-long “test drive.” The plow’s “live edge” blade is segmented into a series of jointed, spring-loaded sections that move up and down to conform with the contours of the road, removing snow and ice far closer to the surface than traditional plows and reducing the need for salt.
The demonstration project proved so successful that the LiveEdge has become the plow of choice for municipalities around the basin, and Paul has become a trusted advisor to the highway crews and The FUND.
“I feel honored to be part of this,” says Paul, who fondly remembers childhood vacations at Lake George. “I’m looking at retiring in a couple of years and this will be one of my proudest achievements. To have been there at the beginning and then seeing the Initiative succeed and make a difference in protecting Lake George, that really means a lot to me.”
Paul says he was hooked on the Salt Reduction Initiative from the start, after being invited to a planning meeting by Phill Sexton, founder and managing director of WIT Advisers, LLC, The FUND’s winter management consulting firm and coordinator of the Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM®) certification program.
Two things immediately caught his attention.
First was the science and urgency behind The FUND’s road salt concerns.
“They realized they didn’t have five or 10 years to study this and make a decision, they had to do something now,” Paul recalls. “That was the game-changer. They said, ‘We need to do something now to change the way we apply salt and change the impact salt has on the Lake and the groundwater and drinking water.' They by-passed the let’s-study-this-for-five-years approach and said, let’s act now.”
Second, he says he has never seen a private-public partnership as committed to reducing road salt use or as technologically advanced in its approach.
Local town and county highway crews act on a storm-to-storm basis by applying anti-icing liquid brine to roads in advance of storms, helping prevent a bond from forming between the snow and the pavement rather than using large quantities of salt to break the bond after it has formed. In addition, the cabs of their plow trucks are equipped with sophisticated technologies from another FUND partner, Viaesys, Inc., that record the temperature at the surface of the roads and also track each truck’s road salt application patterns and amounts. Video cameras in the cabs and along roads provide a real-time look at conditions and how effectively the ice prevention strategy is working.
Paul said he knew immediately that the LiveEdge would be a great addition to the crews’ winter management tools and that a first-year pilot project would be the ideal way to prove the plow’s value. He says Metal Pless’ leadership, including Sales Manager Jason Whitmore, quickly approved the plan — and over the past five years the relationship has proven beneficial to both the company and the municipalities, as The FUND has become a Metal Pless dealer and is able to pass along significant savings on LiveEdge purchases.
“We believe in this project and we believe in our product, so it made sense to work together,’” he says. “Yes, we’ve sold about 20 plows as part of the Initiative, but that’s because the towns and county know that the LiveEdge makes a difference. It pays for itself quickly in just the savings on salt purchases alone. But the impact on the environment? In my opinion, that’s priceless.”