ALBANY -- The city wants to expand its rapidly filling dump
onto 10 acres it had already dedicated to the Pine Bush Preserve.
"We hope that people would be reasonable and know what we
are up against," Mayor Jerry Jennings told the Times Union
editorial board on Wednesday. "I know some people are going
to fight us on this."
During his State of the City address last week,
Jennings said the city wants to expand the Rapp Road facility
near Thruway Exit 24 into 10 city-owned acres. A decade ago,
Albany dedicated that land as forever-wild to the preserve,
which includes about 3,000 acres in Albany, Colonie and Guilderland.
It would be the first time that the city has
sought to remove land from the preserve since its creation
by the state in 1988.
"Taking land from the preserve for a dump sets a terrible
precedent," Save the Pine Bush Secretary Lynne Jackson said
Wednesday. "Who is to say that in another five years, another
10 acres won't be needed, and then another and another?"
The Pine Bush is one of the largest of about
20 inland pine barrens worldwide. It was formed toward the
end of the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago when a large glacial
lake stretched from present day Glens Falls to Newburgh.
The lake drained and left behind the sandy soils
that now support the scrub pines of the rare ecosystem. Less
than a fifth of the original Pine Bush survives, with the remaining
area divided by highways, shopping malls and industrial parks.
Jennings is turning to the 10-acre patch of
preserve land because the Rapp Road dump will be full in four
years, long before a proposed new city-owned regional dump
in Coeymans could be opened. But that plan is facing delays
linked to wetlands on the 363-acre parcel as well as legal
challenges by local opponents.
Chris Hawver, executive director of the Pine
Bush Preserve Commission, said, "This is a precedent that we don't want
to see happen," he said. "The city needs to look
at other alternatives."
Jennings said the city could give the commission
money to buy other land in the Pine Bush to offset the 10 acres
that could be lost.
Last week the city dropped its plan to expand
the dump into 20 acres at the Fox Run Estates trailer park
after Save the Pine Bush sued because the city had promised
in 2000 to donate the land to the preserve.
The city earns about $13 million a year -- a
tenth of its annual budget -- by taking trash from private
haulers and the communities in the ANSWERS consortium that
includes Cohoes, Rensselaer, Watervliet, Berne, Bethlehem,
Guilderland, Knox, New Scotland, Rensselaerville, Westerlo,
Green Island and Altamont.
Albany cannot afford to slow down the flow of
trash, which would extend the life of the dump, Jennings said. "It
is a financial situation for us," he said.
When the city expanded the landfill in 2000,
it was projected to last for 15 years. However, because the
city is taking in nearly as much trash as allowed under
its state permit, the expansion will be filled by 2010.
Without a place to put its garbage, the city
would be forced to pay to haul it away, Jennings said. That
expense, coupled with the revenue loss, could force massive
property tax increases and city worker layoffs, he warned.
Removing land from the preserve -- a process called alienation
-- requires state legislative approval. Assemblyman Jack McEneney
said Jennings has approached him about sponsoring such a bill.
"This is a battle that has to be fought in the Common Council," said
McEneney, an Albany Democrat. "This is a local matter and
will require a home-rule message from the council."
There appeared to be some division on the 15-member
council over the idea of sacrificing Pine Bush Preserve
"There seems to be an air of inevitability about this," said
Common Council President Shawn Morris. "This is the largest
opportunity available to the city at this time."
However, she added, the dump squeeze "opens the door for
the big discussion of the future of the landfill and the city's
dependency on revenue from the landfill."
Council member Dominick Calsolaro said Jennings
must work with the council to find a solution to
the garbage issues and questioned whether the preserve
should be reduced. "We need a better
dialogue on this," Calsolaro said.