Proposed Landfill Expansion a Collision of Factors

By Lynne Jackson

ALBANY: The proposed landfill expansion in the Albany Pine Bush could be used by the new administration in the State of New York as a catalyst for change in solid waste policy in the state.

Over the past year, Save the Pine Bush has had many speakers discussing the solid waste issue. We had some speakers that were not popular with environmentalists who spoke about Waste-to-Energy. It was after John Waffenschmidt, Vice-President of Business Development from Covanta Energy, spoke at our November dinner, that I became completely, totally convinced that the only solution to solid waste management is reduction, reuse and recycling. Reduction, reuse and recycling is the only solution that Save the Pine Bush endorses. After listening to Mr. Waffenschmidt, I learned that Waste-to-Energy or incineration is too polluting and too costly to even consider.

But, this is the problem: the solid waste management system in New York is set up to encourage corporations and municipalities to take as much garbage as possible in order to profit from their landfills (or WTE facilities). Reduction, reuse and recycling cannot be instituted with the current policy because it is more profitable to fill landfills and burn plants with garbage.

In the Pine Bush in Albany, we have all of the elements of the problem of solid waste on a collision course.

1) The landfill is located in an ecologically unique area – the Pine Bush. The Pine Bush a rare ecosystem, some say the best example of an inland pine barrens ecosystem in the world. Not only does the public know that a landfill does not belong in the Pine Bush, almost no one supports expanding the landfill.

2) The City of Albany is completely addicted to garbage. If Albany does not get its fix, the fiscal consequences to the City will be devastating. The dump generates $13 million a year for the City, nearly 10% of the City’s budget. Tom Nitido, the Comptroller for the City, has told me the City’s taxes could rise 27% to 35%, if the City can’t get its landfill expansion. A fiscal disaster in the making.

3) The State of New York dumps its garbage in the Pine Bush landfill. As far as we know, all of the solid waste generated by the state government in Albany goes into the Rapp Road landfill.

4) The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation does not assist municipalities with their solid waste issues. The only solutions offered by DEC are landfills and WTE facilities. Fortunately, as far as we know, DEC has not granted a permit for a new WTE facility since 1992 (and I hope they never grant another!). However, DEC has only granted two permits to operate new landfills in the state in the past ten years. The only solution to solid waste is DEC seems to support these days is permits for expansions of already existing landfills. This does not bode well for the Pine Bush. The Pataki administration has left DEC with a bankrupt and unsustainable solid waste policy.

5) Huge, national corportations have gotten into the garbage business and are reaping enormous profits at the expense of the health of citizens and the environment. The Pataki administration’s solution to solid waste was the free market for big corporations. A ‘free’ market is not one that will focus on the environmentally responsible solution – reduction, reuse, and recycling.

6) The stench of the Rapp Road landfill can be smelled over a large distance. The neighbors are suffering. No one knows what is in these air emissions, or whether the stench causes health problems. The neighbors do know that they cannot live with the stink any longer. In the past six weeks, over 250 people attended the DEC scoping hearing on the proposed expansion, and over 300 people attended a meeting on the landfill sponsored by Save the Pine Bush. The opposition of the public to the landfill expansion is overwhelming and unprecedented (in all my years of advocacy for the Pine Bush, I have never seen such opposition or anger). The neighbors are furious, and they should be. No one should have to live with such a stench. The Albany City officials compound the anger by ignoring the complaints of the neighbors, because most of people who smell the landfill do not live in the City.

With the fragility of the Pine Bush, the fiscal crisis of the City, the greed of the corporations, the lack of direction from DEC, and the rage of the citizens, I predict we are about to have a major explosion over garbage, and its not going to be pretty.

On the other hand, this impending collision could become the catalyst for New York State changing direction on solid waste. After all, the state dumps its garbage here too!

1) DEC could be directed to research and write a rational solid waste policy of reduction, reuse and recycling with the ultimate goal of zero waste.

2) The State could assist the City of Albany with its garbage addiction, and assist the City financially while the City gradually reduces its dependence on garbage revenue.

3) Real health studies could be done for the neighbors of the landfill to determine the health risks to neighbors and taking steps to eliminate these risks.

4) The State could honor the 1990 promise of former DEC Commissioner Jorling who said that he could not envision a need for another landfill in the Pine Bush.

5) If the State can succeed in developing a rational solid waste policy for its own garbage here in the Capital, then this policy could be adopted everywhere in New York.

No one wants a landfill built in their community. All communities should take responsiblity for their own solid waste. Reduction, reuse, recycling (and don’t forget composting) is the solution to solid waste. Why bury valuable resourses, when items can be reused or recycled?