City of Albany Attempts to Sneak Legislation Past the Public Removing Land from the Pine Bush Preserve

By MATT PACENZA, Staff Writer

ALBANY – The city received permission Thursday to begin digging test wells in the Pine Bush – a first step toward a possible and controversial expansion of the Rapp Road dump into the nature preserve.

Nearly simultaneously, however, the city’s plan was dealt a blow when state Assemblyman John “Jack” McEneny, D-Albany, blocked a bill that would have allowed the city’s dump to expand by 12.6 acres in exchange for the city acquiring another 30 acres to add to the Pine Bush.

McEneny, who sponsored the legislation, pulled it from consideration. The assemblyman, a longtime political foe of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, decided that an environmental review of the plan should proceed before the Legislature endorses it, according to his office.

On Thursday morning, the Pine Bush Preserve Commission voted 9-1 to allow the city to conduct archaeological and water tests this summer. The wells will be dug in a section of the preserve that borders the west edge of the city’s landfill.

As they voted, several commission members stated that their “yes” votes were not an endorsement of the city’s bid. They said they supported the testing permit only to learn more about the state of groundwater in the area.

Commission Chairman Steve Schassler said the body “in no way” backs the landfill expansion and, in fact, “reserves all rights to challenge or oppose” the city’s proposal.

Jennings, a member of the commission, applauded the vote. “I appreciate your willingness to let us go ahead with the investigation,” he said.

Aaron Mair was the lone commission member to vote against the temporary permit, which requires the city to pay for cleanup after the testing is complete.

“This vote gives the appearance that it’s OK to expand the landfill,” said Mair, a longtime environmental activist. “It sends the wrong signal.”

The city will now proceed with testing, which it needs to do in order to complete its application with state Department of Environmental Conservation. Hearings on the proposal are likely to be held this fall. Only after the review is done will McEneny consider reintroducing the state bill, according to his chief of staff, Joe Galu. “The bill is only being held, not tabled,” said Galu.

McEneny’s refusal to do the landfill bill rankled Jennings. The mayor suggested that if the city loses the revenue it makes off other communities’ trash, he might have to lay off as many as 250 General Services employees.

Despite his obvious displeasure, the mayor insisted he won’t challenge McEneny in a primary in retaliation, as some have speculated, or even support someone to run against the assemblyman.

“I don’t have time for that nonsense,” Jennings said. “If someone decides to run, I’m going to make decisions then.”

McEneny seemed unconcerned about this fall’s race, saying if someone decided to challenge him, it wouldn’t be personal but “part of the political process.”

“If after 14 years, the people of Albany County don’t want me, let them take somebody else,” McEneny said.

The two Democrats have always been cordial at best. But things between them soured recently after McEneny, who lost a mayoral primary challenge to Jennings in 1997, announced he’s challenging the mayor again this fall – this time for his seat on the state Democratic Committee.

“I have to raise money against him because he’s running against me as a delegate,” Jennings said. “I’m very willing to discuss our political careers publicly.”

Matt Pacenza can be reached at 454-5533 or by e-mail at Staff writer Elizabeth Benjamin contributed to this story.