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Judge tosses Pine Bush challenge

Decision said opponents of Rapp Road dump expansion failed to support claims

Published on 2/9/2010 by the Times Union written by BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer, Times Union

ALBANY -- An environmental group has lost its lawsuit seeking to block the planned $41 million expansion of the city dump into the Pine Bush.

State Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath on Friday tossed the lawsuit by Save the Pine Bush, which last fall sued both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the city to halt expansion of the Rapp Road dump into 15 adjoining acres.

McGrath ruled that the not-for-profit conservation group failed to prove that the DEC failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the expansion or consider alternatives, such as having the city take its garbage to landfills elsewhere in the state.

In addition, McGrath also ruled the DEC could not be forced to bring the plans before a DEC administrative law judge, and allowed Albany to use borrowed money to pay for the landfill expansion and impose a $10-a-ton fee on city trash to help the city pay for an $18 million plan to restore about 250 acres of habitat around the landfill once the expansion is filled as expected by 2017.

The expansion will allow the city and other municipalities that use the dump to dodge a potential financial and waste-disposal crisis. The landfill serves 220,000 residents from Albany, East Greenbush, Rensselaer, Altamont, Berne, Bethlehem, Guilderland, Green Island, Knox, New Scotland, Rensselaerville, Watervliet and Westerlo.

Dump opponents "failed to submit any expert evidence in support of their claim," wrote McGrath, including claims that the expansion would harm the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.

The judge also wrote that, because DEC has ruled that the site of the city's planned replacement landfill in Coeymans is not viable because of protected wetlands, there are "unique circumstances and conditions, as well as significant economic burdens if the landfill expansion was not approved". That helped provide a "rational basis" for DEC's approval of the expansion and of a solid waste plan that did not spell out the future of the region's garbage.

Save the Pine Bush Secretary Lynne Jackson decried the decision. "This is terrible. Our courts are out of their minds," she said. Jackson declined comment on whether the group will appeal.

She said her group submitted detail objections to the expansion with the DEC, as well as affidavits from City Council members Dominick Calsolaro and Corey Ellis that were part of the group's lawsuit.

Jackson said the dump expansion is "even more despicable" because only city taxpayers are responsible for the $10 fee, even though a number of commercial haulers also use the dump. "That fee is coming out the backs of the poor, and not the haulers who have been benefitting for years from the dump," she said.

A DEC spokesman declined comment on McGrath's decision.