Save the Pine Bush

The Army Corps of Engineers extended the comment period on their review of the wetlands that will be destroyed if the proposed landfill in the Pine Bush is constructed. Bert wrote an excellent letter outlining many of the problems of expanding the landfill. The deadline for comments was March 5 and the letter was sent to Heidi Firstencel, US Army Corps of Engineers, NY District: CENAN-OP-R, Upstate Regulatory Field Office, 1 Buffington Street, Blg 10, 3rd Fl, Watervliet, New York 12189-4000, regarding Public Notice # NAN-2005-01137-WFI. Here is a summary of the letter in full (only a summary was published in the March/April Save the Pine Bush newsletter):

Heidi Firstencel
Us Army Corps of Engineers
NY District: CENAN-OP-R
Upstate Regulatory Field Office
1 Buffington Street, Blg 10, 3rd Fl
Watervliet, New York 12189-4000

Re: Public Notice # NAN-2005-01137-WFI

Dear Ms Firstencel:

I am writing in regards to the City of Albany permit application for a Dept. of the Army permit to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S. C. 1344).

This permit application should be denied for the following reasons:

The Albany Landfill sits on a protected Principal Aquifer which is protected under the provisions of 6 NYCRR 360-2.12(c) which prohibits siting a landfill (or expansions) over a primary water supply or principal aquifer. During the rulemaking process, the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation stated that even a double liner system was not adequate protect for the State’s important water resources. The City, in addition to the Corps Permit application, is seeking a variance from this regulation.

Significant pressure and/or influence enabled the City to obtain a variance for the last expansion and DEC granted this based on a “double liner” system as adequate along with economic hardship reasons. It has been documented that since the last expansion, there have been a number of liner leaks requiring significant repairs along with major long term pump failures resulting in the installation of a separate test well. DEC’s original decision on double liners as being inadequate/not acceptable for landfills over aquifers has proven to be correct. The City has attempted to get the aquifer declassified without success, no matter how much they have spent on private consultant studies’, they continue to press their view that the potential groundwater contamination is inconsequential in the latest draft environmental impact statement. Rather, their number one concern is revenues gained from operating the landfill.

Referencing a section from the City’s Fourth Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the propose landfill expansion: “Groundwater recharge occurs primarily through precipitation and infiltration within the shallow Sand Unit. Recharge to the deeper units, such as the Intermediate Silty Sand and the deep Silty Clay/Silt and Sand Unit occurs from infiltration through the upper units. Locally, groundwater often emanates as surface water within small streams and surface water within small streams and surface water bodies such as the tributary to Rensselaer Lake, which is on the east side of the AIL.” (Albany Interim Landfill)

This is important to note for the following reasons: the presence of sizable wetlands that would be impacted, tributaries from the site to Rensselaer Lake whose fingers reach just across the street from the landfill; the water table is at or close to the surface at the site as evidenced by the wetlands, tributaries and groundwater measurements under two feet in much of the area; the presence of an existing leachate plume from the older unlined section of the landfill, the direction of the groundwater is documented in the direction of the tributaries and Rensselaer Lake, the fact that these combined characteristics show the site is actually part of the Patroon Creek watershed which flows into the Hudson River and should also be under federal jurisdiction.

Further, a research study published June 19, 2006, “Measuring the effects of wetland and riparian zones on water quality in the urban Patroon Creek Watershed, Albany County, NY Final Technical Report” by John G. Amason, Dept. of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences and George R. Robinson, Dept. of Biological Sciences, University at Albany, indicates that the leachate plume from the landfill has already reached the southern tributary of Rensselaer Lake, and/or runoff coming from one of the two culverts connecting with the landfill side. The following is quoted directly from this document: “Principal Findings 1. Significant spatial variations in major ion concentrations in surface waters of Patroon Creek and Rensselaer Lake indicated the presence of four principal components: ………………. 4) groundwater contaminated by landfill leachate with elevated sodium, chloride, and ammonium, and low dissolved oxygen. The last component is observed only in the headwaters of the south branch of the Reservoir; closest to the City of Albany Sanitary Landfill. 2. Rensselaer Reservoir (14.3 ha) is a eutrophic waterbody that is an emergency water supply for the City of Albany….”

The site of the landfill expansion should be considered the headwaters to Patroon Creek which flows to the Hudson River.

The City of Albany, in the same year the Save-the-Pine Bush lost is court battle with the City over the last expansion, sold the water rights to Rensselaer Lake to the Water Authority for $7 million dollars as an emergency water supply (this action should have automatically reversed the DEC’s decision to grant the variance).

As part of the last expansion environmental review the City touted an “Environmental Benefit of the last expansion if approved”- a feasibility study of the existing leachate plume – the result of which was a “DO NOTHING” alternative. How this could be considered an Environmental Benefit?

There are other environmental concerns as well: namely the impact on the Pine Bush Preserve which abuts the landfill; the years of public health and economic impacts on the residents, workers and businesses near the landfill from years of obnoxious fumes (the DEC had fined the City several times for this and the complaints about odors and sickness are documented); significant methane concerns, the impact on a rare and endangered species – the Karner Blue Butterfly; and the long term endangerment of this important water resource.

Landfill fumes from the landfill have reached into homes and businesses for over a decade. The many reports of illnesses, (including by Thruway workers) and the impact on use of homes and yards demonstrates there has been a Negative Impact on the Health Safety and Welfare of the Public as a direct result of the operation of this landfill. I have copied and read many of the comments and consent orders by DEC. The Save-the-Pine Bush submitted a very thick comment document to the current environmental review (to NYSDEC) that contains much of this information.

Considering the “DO NOTHING” alternative for the existing leachate plume as not being cost effective, the State and Federal taxpayers could also be at risk were a clean-up required for the existing plume, or any additional problems from liners leaks from the last few expansions along with the current expansion proposal. The impact is not just local, but reaches the Hudson River. What will the future impact on Rensselaer Lake now enjoyed by the public? A recent article from the Times Union (February 17, 2009) regarding the contamination of Nassau Lake from a toxic dump upstream emphasizes the long term impacts that can destroy our water resources. In this case, the State spent millions of taxpayers money on cleanup efforts and recent studies show it is still contaminated. The Albany Landfill, Rensselaer Lake and the Patroon Creek are within a densely urbanized area, the long-term impacts from ground and surface water resources must not be allowed to be increased from further expansion. Examine the proximity of the landfill to both residences and Rensselaer Lake (just across the Rapp Road). I hope that there will be studies of health impacts on area residents, especially those in the Village of Colonie whose residents are fed up with the fumes emanating from this landfill.

Further, the City, in their draft environmental review document, maintains it has been adequately looking or alternative sites, but has focused its attention on land it purchased in the Town of Coeymans which they have known for many years would not be a suitable site due to wetland concerns. It seems the revenue stream from the existing site is too desirable for real alternatives. This is evident in the City’s current effort with the ANSWERS consortium to develop a new Solid Waste Management Plan as required by NYSDEC. I was quite surprised they began this process by using their own consultant to develop a draft plan and then start meetings with the communities. Whereas, this should have been the other way around, the communities would meet and work together on developing a draft plan with public input.

Although the City had prepared quarterly groundwater reports, the consistent comments for increases in contaminants from test wells for the lined landfill expansions never consider the impacts of the landfill, the documented leaks, nor pump failures. Rather the following is used in all of the reports: “Based on the quarterly monitoring data collected to date, significant increases have been identified for a number of parameters in each of the down gradient monitoring wells. However, these significant increases are not attributed to impacts from the AIL, but rather a number of factors that include the following:

“Impacts from the unlined, closed GAL;

“Potential errors due to matrix interference affects or variability in the laboratory analysis;

“Natural variation

“The size of the sample population for statistical analysis of the existing water quality value database;

“Construction/expansion of the landfill cells; with impervious composite liner systems, which reduce recharge; and

“Impacts from road salt.”

I respectfully request a thorough examination of the entire landfill proposal and am concerned political pressure will once again play a large part in the review. The City claimed in this and the last expansion proposal, a significant economic hardship for the aquifer variance. I have obtained details on the waste tonnages since 1999 which demonstrate, that rather than conserve the landfill space for the eleven communities that make up the ANSWERS wasteshed that depend on this landfill, the City chose to maximize revenues by lowering tipping fees significantly to obtain the maximum possible wastes (not all could come from these communities), along with the decision to bring in as much Alternative Daily Cover Material, C&D Wastes and Petroleum Contaminated Soils for additional revenues. I believe the thousands of additional tonnages from these other sources also shortened the life of the exiting landfill. The lowering of tipping fees to maximize revenues was noted as far back as 1998 in a NYSDEC report. Basically, the economic hardship has and was self-created to balance the City of Albany budget at the expense of a waste site for the other ten communities that make up the ANSWERS consortium. Unfortunately, the City owns and operates the landfill and calls all the shots.

Please obtain and review; the entire Part 360 application for Landfill Expansion, all Hydrologic studies, all permit applications, along with the Draft EIS for this project. This time, the expansion is going to sit on or just two feet from the water table (protected Principal Aquifer), will further drain into the tributaries that are part of the Patroon Creek Watershed, and will be just a few hundred feet from the southern end of Rensselaer Lake. Together, along with the fact that the residents had enough and with the landfills presence in a Nature Preserve which contains a rare and endangered species, any permit must be denied. The public use of this preserve has also been negatively impacted by fumes, blowing litter and is a visual nuisance. The landfill is the prominent feature visitors see when they hike just a short way into the Preserve. The irony of a significant habitat containing rare and endangered species threatened by the continued use of this landfill, along with a proposed landfill expansion onto to a very high water table close to the surface and so close to a lake (emergency water supply), is astounding. How many negative factors are to be allowed so that the City of Albany can continue to rely on landfilling for short-term profits? The City should stop accepting wastes from outside the area while they focus on a feasible long-range alternative, but it seems reducing the revenue stream is not acceptable.

I am able to provide or direct you to sources for the comments I have stated above and would like to meet with you or talk on the telephone if possible. At least to know you have read and considered all that has been stated above. There is so much detail that I could not cover all in this letter. I can provide copies of Groundwater Studies which document the leachate plume, particularly from the old unlined landfill though much can be found online, the full Patroon Creek Watershed study document, information of the tremendous number of complaints, reported illnesses, and including the economic impact on area businesses.

Sincerely yours,

Bertil K. Schou