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Albany's Landfill Expansion - Issues to be Considered

Published on 3/3/2007

March 3, 2007
Perspective
Joann Crupi
Editor/Opinion Pages
Times Union
Box 15000
Albany, New York 12212

Albany's Landfill Expansion - Issues to be Considered

(Note: The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is in the process of "scoping" for the proposed Rapp Road Landfill Expansion. Below is a condensed version of my written testimony to DEC regarding the proposed expansion of the landfill.)

A Regional Landfill Authority should be established. The ANSWERS consortium is a group of municipalities who use the landfill to dispose of their trash. No single municipality in the ANSWERS consortium should be totally responsible for providing and managing the landfill, nor be the sole recipient of any financial benefit derived from the operation of the landfill. ANSWERS is a regional cooperative and landfill operations should be under the control of a regional authority established in the Public Authorities Law.

Management of the landfill by the City. The City has yet to figure out how to control the smell, and possibly toxic air-borne particles emanating from the landfill. DEC has fined the City over this issue in the past and even recommended that the City cut its trash intake in half until the odor problem is solved by the City. This is not a bad suggestion. Limiting the amount of trash allowed at the landfill would have the dual affect of helping to control the offensive odors and extending the life of the landfill. In addition to the smell, the rate at which the current P-4 expansion area is filling up shows a lack of discipline in the management of the landfill. The P-4 landfill expansion was projected to last until 2012 to 2015. If the City is strictly following the permitted amount of trash to be taken in daily, then why is the landfill filling up at a pace that is shortening its projected life by three to six years? DEC needs to compare the records of the amount of trash accepted at the Rapp Road facility with the billing records from the City Treasurer.
. Recycling/Reuse/Recovery. The Draft Scope City of Albany Rapp Road Landfill Eastern Expansion Fourth Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) makes no mention of recycling, reuse, and recovery.
How can this be? The present landfill's life could be extended by: better enforcement of the City's present recycling regulations; increasing the types of plastic that must be recycled; composting of food waste; etc. State agencies and the University at Albany, two of the largest waste producers in the City, need to be included in the recycling/reuse/recovery study. Better efforts by New York State governmental agencies will help prolong the life of the landfill. DEC should require that a full, all-inclusive study of recycling, reuse, and recovery activities by all ANSWERS members and New York State be undertaken before any approval of the expansion of the landfill can take place.
Siting. The placement of the landfill in an environmentally sensitive area and in the vicinity of schools, nursing homes, senior housing, churches, businesses, an underground aquifer, etc. is not in the best interest of the citizens of Albany or the surrounding communities. The original siting of the landfill in the Pine Bush Preserve was contrary to DEC guidelines to begin with. DEC has already compounded its original mistake by allowing numerous expansions of the Greater Albany Landfill (GAL) over the past seventeen years. It is time for DEC to stop any further destruction of the Pine Bush Preserve for the purpose of siting a landfill. A Regional Landfill Authority (see above) would help to rectify the misguided approval of allowing the GAL and its many expansions to be undertaken in the Pine Bush Preserve, by finding a suitable place somewhere in the larger ANSWERS consortium land area to site a landfill, than in the environmentally-sensitive Pine Bush Preserve.
Budget Balancing. Albany has grown to depend on revenue from the landfill to balance its budget. In reviewing the different documents establishing the GAL and then expanding the GAL, I have yet to come across any documentation or rules or regulations that state that profiting from a landfill is a valid reason for establishing a municipal landfill. Government's mission is to serve the citizenry, not profit from them. The City provides many services to its residents that are not driven by profit-making. The removal of trash should not be an exception to this role of government. If one of the City's reasons for requesting the landfill expansion is to balance its budget, then DEC should require that an economic impact study be undertaken as part of the EIS process. The economic impact of tourists coming to the Capital District area to visit the sand dunes and scrub oak, possibly witness a Karner Blue butterfly, or just enjoy a hike in a nature preserve located in the middle of New York State must be comparatively studied against the "profit" the City says it makes off operating the landfill. The operation of this landfill requires the City to borrow funds to pay many costs associated with the landfill. Marketing the Albany Pine Bush Preserve as a tourist attraction and a natural scientific laboratory, with no capital costs to taxpayers, is a prudent investment of taxpayers' money. It is only proper that DEC require a complete, exhaustive economic impact study of alternative uses of the Pine Bush Preserve than that of a dump if the City keeps insisting that the landfill is necessary for a balanced budget.
The City's mixed record managing the landfill, the fact that the landfill is a regional facility and it should be constituted as such under the Public Authorities Law, the need to increase recycling, reuse, and recovery, the requirement that the siting of the landfill must follow all DEC rules and regulations, and the excuse of balancing the City's budget on "profits" from the landfill are all issues that DEC must consider before any further expansion of the landfill in the Pine Bush Preserve is allowed to go forward. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve is a unique treasure, its time to stop burying it under a mountain of trash.