Dominick Calsolaro

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End the crisis mode

Published on 10/2/2008 by the Times Union

For more than 20 years, Albany has been on the verge of a garbage crisis. So long, that it's tempting to imagine it will never come to pass. But as the city finds itself running out of landfill space for the fourth time in two decades, it is apparent that Mayor Jerry Jennings, the Common Council and the leaders of the 11 other communities that use the dump must take steps to end this self-inflicted problem.

The crisis, to be sure, ebbs and flows, but the basic story line doesn't change much: Every few years, the city is in a scramble, because the last hole it dug to put garbage in is nearly full. Clearly, the city knows, a long-term solution is needed, but meanwhile, the script goes, the only practical solution is to let Albany dig another hole to tide it over until that elusive long-term solution is found.

Unless the state Department of Environmental Conservation agrees, dire consequences presumably will result. Albany might have to let the surrounding communities that rely on the landfill fend for themselves. It might have to ship its trash out of state at exorbitant prices, leading to skyrocketing taxes.

Inevitably, DEC grudgingly lets the city expand a little further into the environmentally sensitive Pine Bush. Just for a few more years, mind you.

The reality, of course, is that this arrangement suits City Hall just fine. Albany's landfill clears between $6 million and $7 million a year, and the city would be hard-pressed to balance its budget without that cash. But as the elbow room in the Pine Bush grows ever smaller, and the city's stalling tactics become all the more apparent, that option becomes less and less tenable.

Fourteen years ago, following a study of potential sites for a new landfill, the city identified land in the town of Coeymans for a dump that would serve the region well into the 21st century. Coeymans, though, objected, and the city didn't particularly press the matter. So much time has passed that federal wetland rules have changed and the Coeymans site may no longer be practical.

The city now wants one more expansion to give itself another seven years. It promises to lock up all its surrounding land in preserve so no more expansions are possible, and to pursue a long-term solution. But that process will take up to two years, and the current dump is projected to be full in 2009. A crisis, again.

Whether that DEC permit comes or not, Albany must stop wasting time. If it wants to stay in the lucrative garbage business, fine. Without further delay, it should decide whether the Coeymans site is viable, or undertake a new study of potential sites. It should also consider whether other disposal methods, such as waste-to-energy incineration, are more financially and environmentally attractive today. And it should bring surrounding communities to the table with the understanding that one of them may have to help host the solution in its backyard.

Treat this as a crisis, Mr. Jennings, because one way or another, a real one will be upon your city and its neighbors before you know it. You can buy time, or be a leader. Or is handing off one of the city's biggest problems the legacy you want to leave?

The Issue:

Albany's landfill is filling up, again.

The Stakes:

The city and its neighbors need to end this perpetual "crisis."