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Caltrans cleans up a salty mess on Hwy. 101 from Cuesta Grade to Avila 

If you’re one of the many Californians convinced that anything Caltrans does takes longer than it needs to, think again.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 22, a California Department of Transportation highway maintenance crew cleaned up a long, thick trail of rock salt that neatly peppered the side of the highway for miles.

The salt stretched from the top of the Cuesta Grade, along the side of Highway 101 South, all the way to the San Luis Bay Drive exit near Avila Beach. A citizen contacted both New Times and the San Luis Obispo County Office of Environmental Health Services, concerned that should looming rains wash that salt into nearby creeks, it could be toxic to the environment.

The complaint was received the afternoon of Jan. 21 and relayed to Caltrans, which was out cleaning it up early the next morning. All told, the trail stretched approximately 13 miles long, and the crew collected 3 cubic yards of material totaling 400 pounds.

Chris Chalk, maintenance stormwater coordinator for District 5, which includes SLO County, said that the salt appeared to have fallen out of a truck that was transporting it on the freeway. Incidents like this happen from time to time, he said, and anything from clothing to cabbage and other produce is known to get left behind. If the mess is deemed a big enough issue for a crew to clean up, the person or company responsible for the mess is billed for the services, as long as they know who did it. There is one exception to that rule, however—chicken feathers are allowed to fall freely onto the highway without any liability.

Chalk said that he wasn’t sure if there was enough salt to cause environmental damage should it be washed away by rain, but it was worth jumping on the situation.

“If that mixed with the water, it could be a potential fish kill,” Chalk said. “It warranted getting to ahead of time.”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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