Solid Waste Issues in the City of Albany, the Town of Colonie and the Proposed Changes in the NYS Solid Waste Regulations

by Tom Ellis

ALBANY. NY: There is much to report on issues regarding solid wastes. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC or En Con)) DEC held a public hearing in Albany to receive comments on proposed revisions to its Part 360 regulations, DEC is assisting the Town of Colonie with its landfill expansion application,” and the City of Albany recently held a short public comment period on its proposals to (1) mechanize the collection of household wastes and recyclables, (2) to eventually implement a pay-as-you-throw (payt) collection and fee system for city residents, and (3) construct a transfer station at the Rapp Road Landfill so that after it closes, wastes could be loaded on to tractor-trailers for shipment to distant landfills. Mayor Kathy Sheehan is also facing a strong challenge from city councilman Frank Commisso, Jr., son of the majority leader of the Albany County Legislature, as she seeks a second term.

About twenty spoke at the July 13 DEC hearing. Many urged DEC to hold additional hearings and allow more than a 30-day comment period that expires July 21. Many commented on how the existing and revised regulations allow for the dumping and spreading of Pennsylvania-based fracking wastes, which are both radioactive and hazardous, in landfills located in central and western New York, and to be spread along roads in NY as a deicer and dust suppressant, even along roads adjacent to rivers and streams. Several speakers said DEC rejected calls to ban or limit the road spreading of fracking wastes; one was stunned that DEC proposed a 50-foot buffer and rejected a 150-foot buffer from water bodies because so many roads are located along rivers and streams.

Regarding the Colonie landfill, where the town is proposing to more than triple the size of an old dump located on the bank of the Mohawk River,

Brian Nearing reported in the June 8 Albany Times Union that DEC is considering allowing or requiring that land beneath an old capped hazardous waste dump co-located with the existing solid waste landfill, be injected with some type of cement as a way to stabilize the ground and prevent or reduce pollution of the river from an expanded landfill. Why is DEC helping the town with this? DEC’s job is to evaluate permit applications, not facilitate them.

The absurdity of En Con’s Colonie landfill stance was pointed out in a June 23 Times Union letter by a Delmar resident who compared how overnight campers in the Adirondacks are required by DEC to set up camp at least 150 feet away from any body of water, probably to prevent any human wastes from entering the water, but DEC is considering an expansion of a large dump next to a river.

On June 27, I emailed DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos a copy of the June 23 Times Union letter and asked him to publicly respond to the contradiction exposed by the letter writer. I wrote that “Thousands of people read the letter. DEC’s credibility is at stake here.” As of July 20, the commissioner had not responded to either the Times Union letter or me.

At the July 13 DEC hearing, the supervisors of the towns of Waterford and Halfmoon (who oppose the dump enlargement) told me that DEC has yet to respond to requests made last fall by them and attorneys hired by the towns, asking DEC to hold a adjudicatory proceeding on the Colonie landfill application. During my comments that day, I said DEC regulations should contain a requirement that a request for a formal adjudicatory proceeding by local governments must be resolved within 30 to 60 days. En Con desires to avoid an adjudicatory proceeding because such a process would allow dump opponents to cross-examine the applicant under oath and open DEC’s secretive decision making processes to public scrutiny. Waterford and Halfmoon officials insist they have met the legal thresh hold for an adjudicatory hearing.

Speaking at the July 13 hearing, Waterford Supervisor Jack Lawler said the Colonie landfill is now more than 50 years old, much of the landfill is unlined and within 100 feet of the river, the proposed regulations are more lax for landfill expansions than for new landfills, and the landfill is non-compliant with existing regulations.

The City of Albany held four public meetings in May and June on the “Future of Solid Waste in Albany.” Long time city employees Joe Giebelhaus and Frank Zeoli were joined by Hans Arnold, a consultant and former director of the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority, at Hackett Middle School on June 20th,.

Mr. Giebelhaus said collection practices in Albany are similar to what they were in 1974 when curbside collection began and the city is eager to mechanize as much as possible the collection of trash and recyclables to reduce workers’ compensation costs and worker injuries.

A man asked if the city had ever performed any analysis of what the avoided costs would be if all the items that are supposed to be recycled were recycled. The city has apparently never done such an analysis.

In response to a question about if the city has conducted any greenhouse gas analysis of the city’s solid waste program, Mr. Giebelhaus said “no” because the city has not yet decided on exactly what improvements it will make in the curbside collection system or which of the many payt options it will implement. A greenhouse gas inventory of the city’s entire existing solid waste program should be a top priority. It would help inform the coming decisions about collection system changes and payt.

Although Mr. Giebelhaus allowed everyone present to ask a question, it was clear the city was more interested in telling attendees where it is going with solid waste than with launching a real dialogue. Albany would benefit from a true collaborative planning process instead of the usual top-down approach. Solid waste management is a many-faceted problem but also an opportunity to set high standards and high diversion (from landfill) rates.

With meaningful public participation the city could avoid making giant errors as it has in the past. These include siting a landfill in a pine barrens and expanding it many times, allowing a filthy trash incinerator to operate in the downtown for twelve years, and spending $5 million for a parcel in Coeymans where the city foolishly hoped to site an alternative to the Rapp Road landfill but could not because the Coeymans site has large tracts of wetlands.

What is needed in Albany is an ongoing series of meetings between city officials and the public to discuss the city’s entire solid waste management program and various suggestions residents have to improve it. Among the issues that should be included in such a dialogue are zero waste, waste reduction, reuse, food waste composting, recycling, household hazardous wastes, a resources recovery park, education, enforcement, justice issues, economics, workers’ compensation, which components of the system would be public and private, inter-municipal agreements, the institutional infrastructure, avoided costs, maintaining unionized jobs for city workers, transparency in decision making, the looming Rapp Road landfill closure and “restoration,” public health, climate change, flexibility, and public participation.









Published in August/September 2017 Newsletter
Save the Pine Bush Newsletter