Meeting with DEC Officials

by Tom Ellis

RENSSELAER, NY: Five residents of Rensselaer and one each from East Greenbush, Menands, and Albany (me) met on September 18 with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) about the Dunn dump in Rensselaer. The DEC official included an assistant commissioner, chief counsel, chief of staff, and regional director. The meeting, held at DEC state headquarters in Albany, was a follow up to a similar meeting in mid-January. 

We made it clear that we continue to favor an immediate or quick closure of the dump for many reasons including immense and intense truck traffic every weekday in the downtown en-route and departing the dump, and continuing operational problems at the dump including frequent loud noises and horrible odors that permeate Rensselaer and East Greenbush neighborhoods, a cemetery, and ball-fields and interior rooms of the Rensselaer pubic school, located immediately adjacent to the dump. Rensselaer residents unleashed a controlled fury on DEC attendees in an effort to convince them that allowing a large dump to operate next to a school is insane.

The regional director told us that DEC desires as open a process as possible but he and the three central office leaders deflected requests from us to hold public hearings on the dump expansion soon to occur even closer to the school, or in 2022 if and when dump owners seek a permit renewal. DEC made no commitment to hold public hearings now or ever.

Several times during the two-hour meeting, DEC told us they are collecting data about many things. (This is part of DEC’s continuing pretense that their decision (2012) to site a dump next to an already existing large public school, to renew the permit (2017), and allow it to continue despite unsolvable problems, is somehow scientifically based.) We provided DEC some of our data. We handed DEC 19-pages from documenting more than 400 comments, many saying dump odors are literally making them ill.

Several times the DEC officials told us that they are devoting considerable resources almost on a daily basis trying to improve dump operations. One of our group, a Rensselaer mom, responded, asking whether the fact that the dump needs so much attention from top DEC administrators raises any red flags.

The DEC attorney said that it is DEC’s belief that DEC’s continuing enforcement actions and permit modifications, are and will bring improvements in dump operations. Several of us responded. Together we said that truck traffic is as bad as it was when we met in January, and dump odors are at least as bad as then. One Rensselaer resident insisted that there is nothing DEC has or can do to improve dump operations, and the only solution is to close the dump.

We asked if the air is safe, why are so many people getting ill from the dump. DEC responded saying they never said the dump is safe. 

Rensselaer residents were unanimous that DEC’s 2012 decision to site the dump was a mistake and DEC should admit it. I handed the DEC attorney a copy of the February 2012 transcript of the public hearing DEC held on the then-proposed landfill and said the people who spoke then correctly identified nearly all of the problems now occurring, and DEC ignored these public comments when approving the dump application.

DEC is now in the permanent untenable position of having to defend allowing a large, noisy, smelly and growing dump to operate right next to a large school with 1000 pre-K through Grade 12 students. Dump owners desire to keep the dump open well into the 2030’s. Rensselaer students have endured more than four years of dump operations, and those currently in pre-K, with their small and rapidly growing bodies, might experience 14 years of dump odors in the school and on its ball-fields, as the dump increasingly encroaches on and eventually towers over the school. DEC already looks foolish, uncaring, and ineffective in its Dunn dump regulatory efforts. It will only get worse. 

I urge retired, former, and current employees of DEC, the state health department, and the NY Attorney General’s offices, to publicly declare your support for an immediate or quick closure of the dump. It is time for Governor Cuomo and DEC top administrators to admit the dump should never have been sited next to a school, the siting was a political decision, not one based on science or protecting the environment, and order the dump closed.


Published in October/November 2019
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