Never Let the Terrorists Know How We're Storing Road Salt

This seems not to be a joke:

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state after it refused to release the construction plans for a barn used to store road salt, on the basis that doing so would be a security risk.


Chiaffarano filed an OPRA request for the state’s building plans, but was denied her request as the state cited a 2002 executive order by Gov. James McGreevey.

The order, issued in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, allows the state to decline the release of public records that would compromise the state’s ability to “protect and defend the state and its citizens against acts of sabotage or terrorism.”

Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs, declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Posted on December 8, 2010 at 2:27 PM67 Comments


mcb December 8, 2010 2:37 PM

I’m a big fan of rule of law and all that, but I can’t decide which is sillier – classifying the drawings, or sueing to see them.

jgreco December 8, 2010 3:04 PM


Today it’s the salt barns, but who knows what it will be tomorrow. You simply do not concede ground to these people or you will have to fight doubly hard in the future.

Another Kevin December 8, 2010 3:04 PM

You’re deficient in imagination. Surely you can compose a movie plot in which terrorists are enabled in their dastardly plans by having the blueprints to a barn full of rock salt.

Since government secrecy is the default, you have to make a convincing case in favor of the public’s need to know. Any movie plot can torpedo such a case.

clvrmnky December 8, 2010 3:06 PM

@mcb: From the article:

“The lawsuit … would compel the state … to fulfill an Open Public Records Act request by Carole Chiaffarano, who lives on property next to the barn.

According to the complaint, Chiaffarano suspected that the salt barn was built “according to plans that were not approved by one or more governmental agencies.”

She has the right to know how tonnes of salt stored next to her might affect her land (and possibly water.)

Savik December 8, 2010 3:13 PM

Am I the only one that sees the problem in telling terrorists where we store our salt? What if the terrorists found a huge store of rock salt in one of those unguarded salt barns, and found their way in, ground it up an put it in our food supply!?

They would then give us all high blood pressure and kill us off…but not before we suffered terribly from thirst and hypertension!

So keeping the plans secret is important so they can’t figure out a way to get in!

HJohn December 8, 2010 3:19 PM

The law also talks about sabotage, not just terrorism. On the other hand, this is road salt, not table salt.

I’d like to know more about their logic behind the denial. As a government employee (not involved in anything like this), I’ve had insider knowledge on why things were correctly protected, yet those it was protected from thought it was absurd secrecy. Not saying this is one of those cases.

savanik December 8, 2010 3:25 PM

@Another Kevin: “You’re deficient in imagination. Surely you can compose a movie plot in which terrorists are enabled in their dastardly plans by having the blueprints to a barn full of rock salt.”

Yep, terrorists wanting to steal rock salt after a nuclear exchange to kill everyone via thyroid cancer.

In a world without safe salt…
sweeping panorama of desert mesa
… where radiation has destroyed all hope…
stock footage, crying children
…only one man stands between the terrorists…
profile shot, antagonist
… and your freedom.
crossfade to profile shot, protagonist

This winter, Jean Claude Van Damme is…
cut to title

LWR December 8, 2010 3:31 PM

C’mon, people, the danger is obvious: terrorists could truck all that salt to the nearest fresh-water reservoir and spoil all the drinking water, crippling the cities being supplied from that source.

Pat December 8, 2010 3:38 PM

From the article, she got the plans from the town without a problem.

She wanted to compare the plans to the plans the state had, and that’s where the problem started.


MikeF December 8, 2010 4:11 PM

Sure. You all laugh. But we here in the north know the danger of unguarded salt.

You ever seen a deer all hopped up on salt lick? They’ll go crazy and try to rut with your truck. And elk are worse.

You let those plans out and I guarantee you’ll be having interspecies terror before you know it.

SteveJ December 8, 2010 4:27 PM

Nah, it’s nothing to do with poisoning or blood pressure.

For my money, the risk is that terrorists would use the schematics to identify the vent shaft via which the salt barn can be destroyed by a single feeble attack. Then wait for heavy snow and state-wide road closures.

The first duty of government is to defend its dumb-ass decisions.

Lawrence December 8, 2010 4:36 PM

Clearly, next year’s Movie Plot Threat contest should be limited to the Rock Salt Scenario.

Captain Obvious December 8, 2010 4:37 PM

Does no one know what road salt is used for? You put it on the road when it is freezing to make it safer to drive on.

The obvious threat is that the terrorists will hijack a plane and crash it into the salt barn, contaminating the supply that is necessary to keep our roads safe this winter. Won’t somebody think of the children?

Thomas December 8, 2010 5:08 PM

The government is trying to protect us all from having to read headlines such as:

“Government storage facility a-salt-ed by terrorists”

Douglas2 December 8, 2010 5:19 PM

Ah but in my movie-plot the baddies are able to mask their radiologic weapon by using road-salt stolen from a state sotrage facility — the spectra of the road salt confuses the TSA’s mobile radiation detection portals because it contains a significant high-energy component from U/Th chains and potassium. Or something.
Or maybe the state is trying to hide their secret fallout shelter, which was built under the salt-storage pile.

Mailman December 8, 2010 5:30 PM

Much like the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs are for civilian uses only, perhaps this road salt barn has a secret military agenda as well.

Has anyone tried to drop a salt rock into a bottle of Diet Coke to see how powerful the resulting explosion is?

DudeHunter December 8, 2010 5:34 PM

It could be that she accidentally stumbled on a building that is not actually a salt storage facility, but a front for something else… crystal meth could be made to look a lot like road salt, maybe the CIA is selling drugs again…

Trichinosis USA December 8, 2010 5:48 PM

As once again the Department of Hopeless Insecurity tries desperately to convince us that they’re actually worth their salt.

Mr M December 8, 2010 6:10 PM

Salt storage facilities should safe from terrorists. But please protect Anvil Factories. They could drop thousands of anvils from the sky, then laugh at the birdies flying around our heads.

Rarian Rakista December 8, 2010 6:37 PM

As someone who has lived downstream from a road salt storage facility, I agree this has massive implications on the value of her property. Salinity for some crops is less than 1 mg a gallon and a single spill can ruin a water source for years.

kashmarek December 8, 2010 6:42 PM

It is all about intimidation and control, unless of course, it is about covering up misteps, blundering, or illegal activity (using any means whatsoever).

kashmarek December 8, 2010 6:44 PM

I should have added,

“much like the recent Wikileaks release of similar happenings with high government officials (misteps, blundering, or just plan stupid).”

GallingGalla December 8, 2010 6:55 PM

Y’all, don’t you see? The salt barn stores the salt that the state uses to salt its password hashes. Can’t let terrorists get to that!

bzelbob December 8, 2010 7:42 PM

Perhaps they think the terrorists have studied high school chemistry and realize that you can disassociate salt (sodium chloride) back into sodium metal and chlorine gas.

The authorities no doubt have a plan to confiscate salt supplies nationwide in order to keep these dangerous materials out of the hands of “the bad guys.”

Next stop – confiscate all the Oxygen!

mcb December 8, 2010 8:05 PM

Okay, okay! It appears that mistakes might have occurred in some recent correspondence featuring my blog name. I regret any discomfort which may have been caused to anyone who might have been involved. I want you to know that with the help of my family, my community, and God almighty I can now surmise that classifying the plans was clearly sillier than suing to see them. What’re more, my good friends in the OPRA-positive community have helped me come to realize that plans delayed are plans denied.

What do we want? PLANS!!!
When do we want them? NOW!!!

supachupa December 8, 2010 10:09 PM

Hmm, well this ties in directly with asking the owner of information to classify the information without them having a proper understanding of the cost of changing the classification level. By default people will tend to imagine all kinds of scenarios if their information is leaked. Just give it a dollar figure and suddenly, that salt barn is looking pretty ‘unclassified’ to me.

Daniel Cheng December 9, 2010 12:59 AM

Not all road salt are table salt. Some road salt are Calcium chloride. They can release heat and cause burn.

jgreco December 9, 2010 3:11 AM

@Daniel Cheng at December 9, 2010 12:59 AM

Yes, I’m trembling in fear right now just thinking about what terrorists could manage with calcium chloride!

Clive Robinson December 9, 2010 4:25 AM

@ Tim,

I realy should take exception to your choice of words….

Its “my coat”

I don’t know what the world is comming to I realy don’t 😉

@ Daniel Cheng,

If I remember correctly calcium chloride is added to cement powder to turn it into quick set cement powder.

Now… As a side note to the Darwin awards there was a story of a couple of gentalmen trying to “cement their relationship” as it were…

Apparently they decided to take an impression of the lower colon, apparently the heat released from the process cooked the organ resulting in the organ having to be surgically removed…

One use for calcium chloride that is not much talked about is a corrosive for accelerating metal fatigue.

Iron and steel both react with calcium chloride so if you pack it around a structural member in a way it cannot be found it will with time and atmospheric moisture cause the weakening of the member to the point it fails…

There are other metal chloride salts that have the same properties (aluminium and ferric chloride is sufficiently exothermic as to actually cause a fire if a source of oxygen is added in the mix).

Tim December 9, 2010 4:45 AM

Clive, technically “my” is of course correct, however the phrase was adopted by a brummie character in a comedy show so “me” has taken it over.

Cue several further posts from readers curious as to brummie accents. In advance I’ll warn them that they really haven’t missed much.

Dirk Praet December 9, 2010 4:53 AM

Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity or plain laziness. “Frag ! Yet another of these silly requests. Don’t these people understand that we are the government and know what’s good for them ? And I still got so many perfectly yummy donuts to eat. Let’s just call it classified and get it over with. Thank you for calling. Please come again.”

BF Skinner December 9, 2010 6:40 AM

@ Clive Robinson “Its “my coat”
I don’t know what the world is comming to I realy don’t ;)”

Really why would @Tim want your coat? Is it a nice coat? Is it a nice warm coat?

kingsnake December 9, 2010 7:12 AM

Don’t release the plans for building a sandbox in the park. Some terrorist kid might ram an explosives laden Tonka truck into it …

hwKeitel December 9, 2010 7:15 AM

It’s always a joke.
In the first weeks of winter in December they throw it on the streets like winter would be over tomorrow. And months later they complain about the hard winter and that salt is empty.

Are you afrait of terrorists? you should be afrait of the wastage in the first place. (not even mentioning the pollution with salt next to the roads. etc. etc.)

But sure, now after Bruce has put it into the public eye we have to think about terrorists destroying our road salt, too. How about pad downs?
‘Our’ economy is based on transportation…

Jeff Martin December 9, 2010 7:27 AM

A law phrased like that is intended to be used to prevent governments from being accountable to the people.

AppSec December 9, 2010 7:49 AM

I wonder if the terrorists think that the rock salt is the key to hacking into passwords…

I’m ducking for cover now.

jacob December 9, 2010 8:14 AM

ok. In the defense of not releasing documents. The construction plans probably would show fence, access controls, security, and building construction. done.

Now the ridicule. It is rock salt! Unless they can make it go critical mass or cause a massive pileup on I-95. (maybe? that’s the thinking)….

Any person could do a critical analysis on a site. They could evaluate many things. construction, personnel, security, etc. If you know what you are looking for you can pretty much figure it out. Cause a harmless breach just to confirm setup. Most buildings are not set up like fort knox. (You would have to cause a serious breach in order to really see what is there).

Most federal buildings, etc. are not complicated and airports are even less so. You might as well prohibit drawings or photos…wait they are trying to do that. just my thoughts. Back to looking at CSI where they can make pixels and read license plates from atm cameras. LOL

DDK December 9, 2010 8:45 AM

In the second world war, the british taught french resistance fighters to put explosives disguised as coal into coal bins used for locomotives, I haven’t heard of how well this worked, Clive?
yesterdays history channel was featuring a show of odd weapons used by the US military, one of them was a white powder substance that caused even grass to become very slippery,
The most effective use of this sort of thing would be to spread it with the salt trucks. The snow would provide the water.
after the salt melted it.
No seriously, its laughable,
the original poster who said it was to coverup blunders or illegality, or just an exercise in power and control through intimidation which is the latest government model. Eating the constitution and our rights under the corruption of our corporate owned gov

bruce December 9, 2010 9:06 AM

Easy – peasy, someone doesn’t know the difference between sodium chloride and sodium chlorate.

kingsnake December 9, 2010 9:11 AM


Best weapon on that show was the automatic 40mm paintball gun.

(Then after that they had a repeat of the show about Lang Vei. Can’t believe a movie has not been made about that yet; I get shivers thinking about their huge balls.)

DDK December 9, 2010 9:27 AM

I missed the lang vei show, must have ficked the remote.

That was a long time ago, ’66 or 67, the special forces camp was overrun and some held out in a bunker under assault as the NVA kept throwing grenades in.
when the sun came up the air support came and ended it, I think, I knew a navy medic who was flown into there at that time. Schaller was his name.

zyx December 9, 2010 12:30 PM

hmmm…but how do we know it is “just” a salt barn and does not have some secret headquarter in the basement…

Jim A. December 9, 2010 12:53 PM

ISTR that under the inspection regime for the Biological Warfare Treaty, the Russians demanded inspection of several suspicious looking domes near Detrick which turned out to be…SHA Salt barns.

Feckless December 9, 2010 1:52 PM


Rock salt: “how does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh?”

It’s used to manufacture “ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.”

Clive Robinson December 9, 2010 3:28 PM

@ DDK,

“In the second world war, the british taught french resistance fighters to put explosives disguised as coal into coal bins used for locomotives, I haven’t heard of how well this worked”

I know the exploding coal worked very well for use in the street and things like that, but I’m not sure about the locamotives though.

The French Resistance where quite dependant on the French Railway Workers for carrying messages etc and the French Railway workers where quite adept at slowing things down to the point where the Germans where bogged down but not to the point where the workers where charged with sabotage (and thus would have been executed or sent to concentration camps).

Also the French Railway workers where vital to the invasion plans so it was unlikley that any French locos or workers would have been needlessly attacked this way.

For those that are not aware Q in Ian Fleming’s 007 James Bond books was a very real pearson and came up with all sorts of places to hide explosives and detonators and more importantly escape equipment. The real life story of what went on is actually better than fiction as some of it you realy could not make up.

I can have a dig around and see what I can find out and let you know.

Jay December 9, 2010 7:30 PM

Here’s a thought:
Let’s say that this particular building is actually used to store rock salt.
But that not all “rock salt silos” are actually used to store rock salt (or are not only used to store salt – maybe elevators hidden in a cleaning cupboard, Andromeda Strain style).

Clearly you can’t give away the plans to type 2.
But if you give away plans to type 1 but not to type 2, it’s easy to tell what type each silo is…

Matt December 10, 2010 12:05 PM

So let me get this straight… The Department of Community Affairs has decided that the community’s affairs are …none of the community’s business?

Sabotage? Yes, well, maybe, but only of bureaucratic budgets and power mongery.

nyc December 10, 2010 4:31 PM

Just wait until the TSA comes in with body scanners for anyone entering a salt storage facility. After all, the terrorists could use salt to very slowly rust out any number of things. Or if they cut you they could put salt in your wound! OMFG!

But seriously, isn’t it obvious they’re trying to hide something? Perhaps there’s a missile silo under all that salt. Or a black ops bunker, or a politician’s love pad.

Brian Duffy December 13, 2010 6:12 AM

Actually, the security threat may be to the people around the salt barn.

Poorly designed salt barns and poor decision-making by the folks running it can and often does introduce salt into the groundwater, which plumes and causes problems for the surrounding neighbors.

I have a friend who lives on a road adjacent to a County DPW garage and salt storage facility. Very few plants grow in the garden due to salinity.

Perhaps the justification is that the locals will try to sabotage the salt barn for some reason? It’s an absurd position in any case.

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