ARGYLE — Behind the town’s highway barn, an open-air building arches toward the sky.
It looks like it could be an outdoor concert hall, but its purpose is much more pragmatic — it’s an approximately $600,000 storage shed for sand.
It was built, said Supervisor Bob Henke, because the original sand pile had leached salt into the water table, affecting two area homes, the town highway’s water and the fire department’s water. Part of its expense, Henke said, was the town having to pay workers the prevailing wage.
This will be the first year the shed gets put to use. The salt leaching had been a longstanding issue, however.
Gary Evens, treasurer of the Argyle Volunteer Fire Department, said around 1998 or 1999, the department was preparing to open its new building on Route 40.
“We drilled a well and found out it was heavily laden with sodium,” Evens said. “So this was going to be mostly for domestic water, washing trucks and so forth. It was just not suitable, not suitable for anything. Couldn’t drink it. Wouldn’t wash your car with it.”
Evens recalled a piece of metal accidentally got sprayed with some water and within a day or two, it looked like an antique.
When the fire house opened officially in 2000, the village was able to extend its water lines to the department, the town highway garage and a couple of neighboring homes.
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The lines are outside the village’s limits, Henke said, and the town pays for their water.
There is no sodium limit in drinking water, according to the Department of Health, but a standard is in place based on taste and that is a maximum level of about 260 milligrams per liter.
Generally, however “state and federal agencies recommend sodium levels in water not exceed 20 milligrams per liter for people on very low sodium diets and 270 milligrams per liter for people on moderately restricted sodium diets,” according to the state.
It’s more of a concern, too, for those with high blood pressure or heart, kidney or liver diseases, the Health Department added.
Henke, a former state Department of Environmental Conservation officer, said he could still see salt in the roadside ditches. Over the past five or so years, the town has been saving money in a building fund and finally was able to construct a building to house the sand.
It includes a concrete pad that keeps the sand pile from leaching into the groundwater table.
Henke said this year will mark the first full year the town utilizes the structure, which will soon be filled with salt and dirt. It was “an unusual step,” Henke said, but at a time when road salt pollution is at the top of water quality issues, he thinks the structure was an important investment.