Albany: At the July Save the Pine Bush dinner, the Honorable
John McEneny, Democratic Assemblyman for the 104th District,
opened his speech by noting the last time he had spoken at
a Save the Pine Bush dinner was a happy occasion to honor SPB
member John Wolcott with an resolution from the NYS Assembly
work on the environment and historic preservation.
Mr. McEneny came to speak about a serious issue — taking
(or alienation) of park land to be used for an expansion of the
landfill in the Pine Bush. In his state-of-the-city speech on January
19, Mayor Jerry Jennings proposed to take land out of the Pine
Bush Preserve to expand the Albany landfill in the Pine Bush. In
order to alienate this land, the NYS Legislature must pass legislation
removing the land from the Preserve. This legislation is usually
carried by the assembly member in whose district the park land
lies. Mr. McEneny’s district encompasses 80% of the City
Mr. McEneny explained the history of this bill. He said that
Mayor Jennings had contacted him in January to present the
plan to expand the landfill into the Pine Bush Preserve.
“The Mayor is losing options in Coeymans,” said Mr.
McEneny. Over 100 acres of wetlands were discovered on the site. “The
Army Corps advised the City that it was not feasible to put a landfill
at the Coeymans site,” said Mr. McEneny. “I never
endorsed the Coeymans plan. I rarely criticize how the city is
run and I normally do not get involved in the day-to-day operation.”
Neither Mr. McEneny nor any member of his staff heard another
word about the Mayor’s proposal to take Preserve for the landfill
from January until June 1, when a paid consultant from the City
offered a model bill to Mr. McEneny. It was very late in the legislative
session - the session would end on June 23. Mr. McEneny questioned
how he was supposed to get this bill to the DEC committee, and
how would he have time to research it? Everything was “hurry,
hurry, hurry, stress, stress, stress.”
At first, Mr. McEneny said no, he would not carry the bill.
Then he received a letter from the communities in the ANSWERS
consortium who dump their garbage in the landfill (all the
communities except the Town of Guilderland and one other signed
the letter) asking for passage of the bill. The municipalities
argued that their taxes would go up, and they would have no
place to dump their garbage. Mr. McEneny said “pressure, pressure, pressure.“ Mr.
McEneny spoke to people at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission,
his staff, and members of Save the Pine Bush and realized that
the bill would have to have some changes.
At one point, the Mayor pressured Assemblyman Ron Canestrari
to put in the bill. Mr. McEneny put in changes for the bill,
increasing the tipping fees to go to the Commission and other
provisions to make it less of a “bitter pill.” But,
Mr. McEneny realized that it was not right to have Mr. Canestrari
put in the bill and asked for the bill back - sort of like passing
the hot potato - and Mr. Canestrari graciously agreed.
That Friday, Mr. McEneny put in the bill. The next Monday,
June 19 (just 4 days before the Legislature was to leave town),
the Albany Common Council held a vote on whether to ask the
Legislature to pass the bill to alienate the land. It was a
split vote (11 to 4) in favor of the alienation.
Supporters of Pine Bush preservation who spoke against the
bill surrounded Mr. McEneny after the meeting. He asked them
to show him a precedent that demonstrates that the alienation
bill did not have to be passed before the State Environmental
Quality Review (SEQRA) process could begin.
The City of Albany kept telling Mr. McEneny that they had
to have this bill, that the City had to have the land alienated
before the SEQRA process could be started and an Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS) prepared.
“I was looking for something that was wrong, but I
did not know what it was.” Mr. McEneny knew that he had
until Thursday, the last day of the session to find what he
Then, Mr. McEneny was told about the court case about
Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. In this case, the City of
New York wanted to avoid going to the NYS legislature to alienate
park land for a water supply project. So New York City did
a very thorough SEQRA review and wrote and EIS. Friends of
Van Cortlandt Park sued. The Judge ruled that proceeding with
the SEQRA process prior to alienation of park land was the
In fact, the new brochure from the Office of Parks and Recreation
strongly recommends that prior to approaching the NYS Legislature
for alienation of park land, that the State Environmental Quality
Review proceedings be done first.
Mr. McEneny said that was all he needed. He did not kill
the bill, however, the bill is now resting comfortably in the
Rules Committee. Bills are not acted upon until the sponsor
moves them. As a matter of fact, the bill is resting so comfortably
that it might as well be dead.
“I don’t think there was a conspiracy to avoid doing
the planning first.” said Mr. McEneny, referring to comments
made by some advocates for Pine Bush preservation who accused
the City of slipping this bill through at the very last minute
with no public input. He said that prior to Van Cortlandt Park
case that many people, with good environmental intentions really
believed that alienation of park land must precede SEQRA review.
Mr. McEneny asked questions and offered possibly solutions
to the solid waste problem. If this bill was so important,
has the City held hearings this month on the issue? What if
one or two of the larger ANSWERS municipalities were to take
their waste elsewhere? Would that extend the life of the landfill
for a few years? What about the unused landfill in Northern
Saratoga that has never opened up? It was approved in 1996
but no one uses it.
Mr. McEneny began to discuss the fiscal issue. He suggested
that the figure he has seen is that the City receives about
$10 million a year from landfill revenues. He suggests that
the City wean itself from the landfill revenue gradually.
McEneny looked to the future, when the City will come to him
again with this or a similar bill. He said, what is going to
happen next January? “I know everyone here is against
this. But, if at the end of a public process, when everyone
has looked at all the alternatives, and the only alternative
is somehow expanding that landfill in one direction or another,
and the City of Albany wants it, and they have done it properly,
then I will pass that bill.”