Common Council votes to Suppress Public Comment

by Lynne Jackson

ALBANY: Citizens asserted their right to speak to elected officials at a meeting of the Albany Common Council’s General Services, Health and Environment Committee on December 1. Only one item was on the agenda: to consider the resolution offered by the Honorable Dominick Calsolaro to dedicate the Fox Run Estate Mobile Home Park to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission as required by the P-4 landfill permit. More that 30 citizens were in attendance, including a dozen residents of the Avila retirement community.

Passage of Mr. Calsolaro’s resolution is essential to protecting the Pine Bush from another landfill expansion.

The meeting opened with the Honorable Sarah Curry-Cobb suggesting that the resolution should be considered in a different committee because there were so many legal questions regarding the resolution.

Next, the Honorable Michael O’Brien raised many issues about the landfill and Mr. Calsolaro’s resolution. Mr. O’Brien noted that according to the DEC website, at the City’s current rate of dumping garbage in the landfill, that the proposed landfill would last only 3 years, not the 3-5 years proposed by the city. He questioned the status of the agreement to dedicate the mobile home park. He observed that the City had paid $237,000 since 2003 to the law firm Nixon Peabody for legal information, “Which is a lot of information,” noted Mr. O’Brien, “of which the Council has seen none.”

The Honorable Dominick Calsolaro explained his resolution to the committee members in detail. He noted that page 11 of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the P-4 landfill permit required the City to dedicate the Fox Run Estate “upon closing” (the City closed on the property in 2000). The City is currently using the P-4 landfill for garbage disposal. In 2000, the Common Council had agreed to this condition to dedicate the Fox Run Mobile Home Park to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Mr. Calsolaro went on to explain that he has had no response to letters he has sent to the City and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation on these issues.

Mr. Calsolaro read General Condition number 4 of the P-4 landfill permit which says “The Department reserves the right to modify, suspend or revoke this permit if . . . the permit was obtained by misrepresentation . . .”

“If the City can’t prove they have been trying to fulfill the permit condition, the City could be found negligent, ” he observed.

The Honorable Michael O’Brien moved that the resolution be put back to another committee or go to a combined committee. This resolution passed 3-2 (Committee members Curry-Cobb, Fox, and Brown voted yes; Igoe and O’Brien voted no. Mr. Calsolaro had no vote, as he is not a member of the committee.).

At this point, a big argument ensued among the committee members. One member moved that no public comment would be accepted from the unprecedented number of citizens packed into the room who came out on this cold night by bus, on foot and by car, to speak about the resolution.

Mr. Calsolaro pointed out that to not allow public comment would be a violation of the Open Meetings Law, which requires 10 days notice for public meetings.

The Committee took a vote, with Ms. Curry-Cobb (Ward 4), Ms. Fox (Ward 15), and Mr. Brown (Ward 3) all voting against accepting public comment. Many people attending were from Ward 15, and it was shocking that Ms. Fox would vote against hearing her own constituents speak.

At this point, Mr. Brown stormed out of the room.

Ken Smith, a member of the public who came to speak, stood up. He said, “I think all of the people who came to this public hearing have a right to speak. Each person here took the time to travel here, some from far away, and shouldn’t be turned away. They were promised that they would be able to speak. Not to allow them to speak would be unfair. It would be an injustice.” Then, Mr. Smith turned to the people who were waiting to speak and said, “If you believe you have a right be heard let the council know now that you believe you have that right, and demand to be heard.”
So much noise was made between Mr. Brown shouting, and members of the public objecting to being dismissed, that the police officers who search people as they enter City Hall came upstairs to see what the difficulty was.
After Mr. Brown stormed out, the members of the Committee who were still in the room (Mr. Igoe, Ms. Fox, Ms. Curry-Cobb and Mr. O’Brien) said that they would stay and hear what people had to say about Mr. Calsolaro’s resolution.

A dozen members of the public spoke. Jim Travers, who lives in Coeymans and is working to stop the City from building a landfill in Coeymans, was the first speaker and spoke in favor of the resolution.

Carm Privitera spoke about how time is of the essence. He lives at Avila Retirement Community in the Pine Bush (Save the Pine Bush sued to stop the construction of this facility in the Pine Bush, but, lost in 2002). He described Avila as “220 senior grey panthers.” He suggested that we become students of garbage, and that we should look at waste-to-energy technologies without dangerous bi-products, as being a solution to the garbage problem in Albany. Ms. Curry-Cobb asked that Mr. Privitera stick to comments about the resolution.

Mr. Christopher Hawver, Executive Director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission explained that the Commission would be open to accepting the dedication of the Fox Run Mobile Home Park to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Ms. Laura Wells, representing The Nature Conservancy (TNC), described The Nature Conservancy’s role in assisting the City of Albany to acquire the Fox Run Estates. She emphasized that TNC would never have been involved in this transaction if they had any inkling that the City would turn it into a landfill.

One of the most interesting speakers was Frank Leak, the Mayor of the Village of Colonie. Because of the location of the landfill, just to the south of the Village of Colonie, it is the Village residents who are most affected by the landfill. Many Village residents live very close to the landfill. Mr. Leak observed that the Village was never notified by the City about the proposed landfill expansion. He stated that he would do everything within his power to make sure that the City passed the resolution to dedicate the Fox Run Estates to the Preserve.

John Wolcott, a long-time member of Save the Pine Bush, stated that dedicating this land is a moral and ethical issue. He said it is honor, the honor of this City, honor to all the citizens of this City. It is a matter of trust. Legally, it might be a breach of contract not to dedicate the land. Mr. Wolcott said that “what really offends me is the apparent attempt to ignore this promise.”

Dick Clark, also a resident of Avila, spoke about how this is an issue of trust, that promises had been made, and asked why in the past five years this land had not be dedicated.

Dr. George Robinson, Associate Professor of Biology from the University at Albany, and City resident of the 15th Ward said that he supports Mr. Calsolaro’s resolution, and that we need to look at short-term and long-term solutions to the garbage issue. He spoke about “mining” the old landfill. The 80-acre Greater Albany Landfill (GAL) was enclosed in 1990. By now, its contents have probably largely decomposed. The recyclables can be mined. The decomposed material can be compacted. All of this creating a considerable amount of space for more garbage.

The GAL is not lined, and it is kind of toxic, with toxic substances leaching into the ground water. If the landfill were to be mined, a liner would be put down, thus preventing more leaching into the ground water. Mr. Robinson noted that the landfill is in a forever wild protection area [see related story which outlines Dr. Robinson’s proposal in more detail].

At this point, Ms. Curry-Cobb stated that this was not the place for comments on solid waste.

Ken Smith spoke in favor of the resolution, and discussed how the landfill adversely affects the hydrology of the Pine Bush aquifer.

Lynne Jackson read from the correspondence between the City of Albany and the Department of Environmental Conservation, all of which discuss how the Fox Run Estates will be dedicated to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.

The public comment was closed after Claire Nolan, the last speaker, and added her voice to support the resolution. No citizen spoke in opposition to Mr. Calsolaro’s resolution.

Printed in the January/February 06 newsletter