Letter to William Clarke about draft scoping session for proposed landfill expansion
Published on 2/25/2007
February 25, 2007
William J. Clarke
NYSDEC Region 4
Division of Environmental Permits
1130 N. Westcott Road
Schenectady, New York 12306
Re: DEC Permits: DEC #4-0101-171/11 Solid Waste Management Facility permit modification, 401 Water Quality Certification, Freshwater Wetlands
Dear Mr. Clarke:
Thank you and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for extending the time period for public comments regarding the expansion of the City of Albany's ("City") Rapp Road landfill. I was unable to attend the public meeting on February 21, 2007 and I appreciate the opportunity to state the issues that concern me regarding the expansion of the Rapp Road landfill ("landfill").
1. The City of Albany's management of the landfill. In my opinion the City has not done a good job in managing the landfill and meeting the requirements of the P-4 landfill expansion.
(a) In the FEIS P-4 landfill expansion document, the current 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/yearly, 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.
(b) In the FEIS P-4 landfill expansion document (page11), the City was directed as follows, "Upon issuance of a permit for the P-4 Project, the City will acquire the existing option, held by The Nature Conservancy, for the 60 acre site immediately north of the Rapp Road landfill (Fox Run Estates and the proposed expansion area of Fox Run Estates), with dedication of the undeveloped portion (approximately 40 acres) to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission upon closing (my emphasis), and dedication of the remaining developed portion (approximately 20 acres) to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission upon closure of the mobile home park; and". As you are aware, this dedication did not take place "upon closing" in the year 2000, but just last year, 2006, following my introduction of a resolution in the Common Council dedicating the land. This inaction by the City for six years following the P-4 expansion requirement shows a lack of commitment by the City to meet its obligations to manage a landfill in the highly sensitive Pine Bush Preserve. Furthermore, in its original 2005 request to the DEC for yet another expansion of the landfill, the City in that request proposed using some of the land that was required to have been dedicated in 2000 under the P-4 expansion agreement for the expanded landfill! This action, or should I say inaction by the City to meet its obligations under the P-4 landfill expansion agreement in a timely manner raises concerns that the City may not follow through on restrictions that may be placed on it for yet another expansion of the landfill in the Pine Bush Preserve. DEC should request an explanation from the City as to why the dedication of land as required in the P-4 expansion FEIS did not take place in a timely matter.
(c) The City has had more than a dozen years to find an alternative site outside of the Pine Bush Preserve to site a landfill. How much longer is it going to take the City to meet its obligation of establishing a landfill outside of the Pine Bush Preserve and away from an underground aquifer, nursing homes, retirement communities, churches, pre-schools, offices and businesses? DEC must set a time limit, or simply refuse to allow any further expansion of the landfill to force the City to meet this obligation. By allowing the City to continually use the Pine Bush as the ANSWERS dump, DEC is making it too easy for the City to find an alternative site.
2. 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, of and by itself, is a regional cooperative and thusly, the landfill operations should be under the control of a regional authority. The DEC should require a study be undertaken to assess the feasibility of asking the state legislature to create the ANSWERS Landfill Authority under the Public Authorities Law. This proposal would add a fourth alternative to the Draft Scope Part III. Reasonable Alternatives To Be Considered.
3. 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 in the ten page document. My first reaction, how can this be? The present landfill's (P-4 expansion) 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. The City should be required to provide an updated recycling compliance study in the EIS. When was the last time such a study/survey was undertaken by the City? Has this study been updated since the P-4 expansion was approved? One example of why this study must be required as part of the EIS is that the City, itself, does not always follow its own regulations. On Monday, February 19, 2007, I witnessed the City trash crew combine the recyclables on my street with the regular trash in one trash truck. How often does the City allow this to occur? State agencies and the University at Albany, probably two of the largest waste producers in the City, need to be included in the recycling/reuse/recovery study. Many people who work in these state institutions tell me that recycling efforts are poor at best, and almost non-existent. 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.
4. Smell/Air Pollution. The City has yet to figure out how to control the smell, and possibly toxic air-borne particles emanating from the landfill (see issue No. 1 above). In fact, DEC has fined the City over this issue in the past, and probably will have to take similar punitive action in the future. According to a Times Union article about the recent fine imposed on the City by DEC over the "smell" issue, one DEC staff member recommended that the City cut its trash intake in half until the problem of the extremely offensive, and possibly health-risk air pollution is solved by the City. This is not a bad suggestion. If this proposed limitation on the amount of trash allowed to be dumped in the landfill was imposed on the City it would have the dual affect of helping to control the offensive odors and extending the life of the landfill. Limiting the amount of trash the City is allowed to accept at the landfill is a viable option that DEC should include in its review of the City's proposal to expand the present landfill. In addition, a complete air quality study must be required by DEC before any determination is made on the City's request for expansion.
5. Siting. The placement of the landfill in an environmentally sensitive area and in the vicinity of schools (both a pre-school and a state university), 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. The New York State Legislature understands the necessity for banning landfills in the vicinity of educational facilities, let alone nursing homes, shopping malls, etc. In fact, Assembly Bill No. 3279 introduced in the 2007 legislative session, prohibits the issuance of a permit for a landfill "located within ten miles of a public or private institution of elementary, secondary, or higher education." The DEC must heed its own rules and regulations, along with the provisions of the Environmental Conservation Law, regarding the guidelines for siting a landfill. A Regional Landfill Authority (see issue no. 2 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.
6. Budget Balancing. The City has grown to depend on revenue from the landfill to balance its budget. In my review of 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. My understanding of government is that its 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 study should include the economic impact of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve being marketed as a world-wide tourist attraction as one of the last remaining in-land pine barrens in the United States. 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 through the issuance of bonds to pay many costs associated with the landfill (capping costs; equipment; legal fees; mitigation costs; etc.). In fact, current taxpayers in Albany are paying off capital expenses related to the GAL and the expansions of the GAL which have no direct benefit to them as those sections of the landfill are now closed. Does this seem like a prudent use of taxpayers' money? I don't think so. But, marketing the Albany Pine Bush Preserve as a tourist attraction and a natural scientific laboratory, with no capital costs to taxpayers, does strike me as 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.
In conclusion, I am opposed to any further expansion of the landfill in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. The City has a mixed record, at best, on its management of the landfill. The landfill, in reality, is a regional facility, and thus it should be constituted as such under the Public Authorities Law. The three "R's" of conservation - recycling, reuse, and recovery - have not been the focus of the City's solid waste management policy and they need to be at the top of the list. The smell emanating from the landfill is atrocious and any possible negative health impacts related to air-borne contaminants must be investigated and proper control measures put in place, whether or not the requested expansion of the landfill is approved by DEC. The siting of the landfill must follow all DEC rules and regulations, as well as the guidelines contained in the Environmental Conservation Law. The Washington Avenue Extension area of the City is a much different place now than it was in the 1970's when the GAL was first approved by the DEC. The changes along this corridor over the past thirty years must be incorporated in any deliberations on approving the expansion of the landfill. And, balancing a budget is not a reason for establishing a municipal landfill and this reason, which some people believe is the only reason the City wants to be the sole operator of the ANSWERS consortium landfill, is not an acceptable reason for approving a municipal landfill, let alone allowing the continuous expansion of the current landfill.
Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.
Common Council Member - First Ward