The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held public hearings that I attended on September 20 and October 25 on the application of the Town of Colonie to greatly enlarge its landfill located along the Mohawk River near Route 9. Dozens spoke against the proposal citing concerns about odors, aesthetics, noise, water and air pollution, regulatory compliance, truck traffic, need, alternatives, and economics, The proposed dump would overlap and expand upon the existing one and an old hazardous waste dump.
Representatives of the Towns of Waterford and Halfmmon, their attorneys, residents, and others -- some from Colonie -- spoke in opposition; they demanded that DEC conduct a formal adjudicatory hearing as part of its review of the application.
Residents who live near the dump were especially impressive. Many have decades observing the growth of the dump. Some said they were promised years ago that the dump would close in 2018 and they want this promise kept. One said the dump is like a sponge and may have to be cleanup up some day at enormous cost.
Another has lived two miles form the dump for sixty years and driven along side it thousands of times to and from work. She said during one extremely wet spring in the 1990s, the effluent from the dump crossed the river road for three continuous days on its way to the river. She questioned the integrity of the existing landfill and said don’t expand it.
An adjudicatory hearing is like a trial at which the applicant and opponents both submit expert testimony and cross-examine each other; these meetings are recorded by a stenographer, the public and the news media can observe, and witnesses take an oath. Open evidentiary hearings allow opponents to highlight omissions and correct errors in the draft environmental impact statement. Secrecy is vastly reduced.
Equally important, with an adjudicatory hearing process. the DEC would have to more carefully explain its secretive decision making process than without one. The public can carefully observe how DEC operates. DEC would be held to a much higher level of transparency and accountability If DEC approves the landfill application, opponents can use the evidence from the adjudicatory proceeding as a basis for a lawsuit challenging the decision.
During the early 1990s DEC said it would no longer allow landfills to be sited near rivers. A key question today is will DEC allow a tripling of the size on an existing landfill at a site it would never allow a brand new landfill.