Albany's pile of questions
Published on 7/15/2009 by the Times Union written by Editorial
Is borrowing $41 million to pay for an expansion of Albany's Rapp Road landfill that would last just seven years really the best way for the city to hold on to the revenue that the regional facility generates and take care of its own solid waste needs?
No, that's not some hypothetical question. It's a lament about the way Albany has come to manage its landfill, namely lurching from deadline to deadline and crisis to crisis.
The Common Council is scheduled to vote tonight on the first phase of the bonding project. It would include $9 million for the fifth, and final, expansion of a landfill that wasn't supposed to be so close to capacity again until 2012 at the earliest and $2.4 million for restoration of the environmentally sensitive Pine Bush, where the landfill is located. A two-thirds majority of the council's 15 members is required.
It would be nice if the advocates of such bonding could make a more convincing case that this is the best way to fund such a short-term solution to the city's latest landfill crisis. Even the proponents of taking on another $41 million in debt acknowledge that critics have raised some very valid questions. Most prominent among them, perhaps, is why Albany would abandon a policy it adopted earlier this year not to bond for longer than "the expected useful life of the purpose" for the borrowing. Yet here's Council Member James Sano saying that bonding "always has been the way it was planned."
So? What happened to the debate and the consideration of other alternatives that should come with an investment of this magnitude? And how much money, really, can the city count on collecting from the methane gas the landfill would continue to produce after it reaches its capacity for accepting trash?
It would be just as nice, of course, if the opponents of borrowing all this money could make a more convincing case that there's a better way to pay for another landfill expansion. Raising the fees that 12 other cities and towns, as well as commercial haulers, pay to use Albany's landfill might drive them to take their waste disposal business elsewhere. Guilderland already plans to do so for environmental reasons.
Mr. Sano makes a stronger point in his retort to opponents, most notably Council Member Dominick Calsolaro: How would the city pay for landfill expansion if its customer base declines to pay higher charges?
The landfill and the city are between a rock and a hard place.
Refuse from city residents accounts for only about 8 percent of what's dumped into the landfill. Yet the city is required by the state to set aside $10 for every ton of trash that goes into the landfill, to pay for a $15 million to $18 million restoration to some 250 acres of the Pine Bush. Mr. Calsolaro and others have taken to calling that a "dump tax." "We don't want to pay the $10 for the other 92 percent," Mr. Calsolaro says.
If only there were a better way.