Save the Pine Bush Sues City of Albany and
Department of Environmental Conservation
Over Illegal Landfill in the Pine Bush
ALBANY, NY: Save the Pine Bush filed suit against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the City of Albany over the permit approval for the City of Albany P-4 landfill expansion on Rapp Road. Save the Pine Bush is suing on the grounds that the permit approval was illegal because the authority to grant a variance expired on Dec 31, 1995. Lewis B. Oliver, Jr. filed the suit on behalf of Save the Pine Bush in New York State Supreme Court.
The City of Albany, the State of New York, and other municipalities, have been dumping their garbage in the Albany Pine Bush for over 30 years. The Greater Albany Landfill was opened in the 1960’s, and when it was near capacity in the late 1980’s, the City of Albany applied for its first expansion. The “Albany Interim Landfill” (AIL), was approved by then Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Thomas Jorling in 1990, and was supposed to last no more than three years. During the “interim” period, Albany was to find a suitable site or solution for its long term waste management needs. Jorling, who overruled the DEC administrative law court’s decision to deny a permit for the AIL , stressed the importance of the City to move rapidly to implement an alternative solid waste program. In his 1990 decision he stated “I cannot envision any set of circumstances that would justify the extension of the life of this interim landfill or the approval of another such facility in any other part of the Albany Pine Bush.” The AIL was constructed soon after and destroyed the largest population of Karner Blue Butterflies in the Pine Bush.
Now, ten years later the City applied for yet another expansion to the landfill. Save the Pine Bush submitted a 28 page document that contained its comments and expert testimony opposing the expansion to New York State DEC, on the last day of the Public Comment Period, Friday, February 26, 2000. On Monday morning, February 29,2000, a 9 page findings statement, and a 13 page permit, was issued. It is obvious that Save the Pine Bush’s comments and evidence were completely ignored, and not even considered. This not only shows a lack of respect for the State Environmental Quality Review Act, but also makes a mockery out of the whole system. The decision to approve the permit was clearly made before all public comments were considered.
Beneath the Albany Pine Bush exists a large aquifer. This proposed P-4 expansion, as well as the existing landfill, is located above this aquifer. Not only is it against common sense to place a landfill above an aquifer, it is illegal in the State of New York. On July 9, 1986 the Commissioner of DEC designated the Pine Bush Formation as a principal aquifer, which is defined as a potential source of public drinking water. New York Environmental Law 6 NYCRR 360-2.12 c (1) (I) states: “…no new landfill and no lateral or vertical expansion of an existing landfill may be constructed over primary water aquifers, principal aquifers…”. There was an exception for the Commissioner of DEC to allow such an expansion upon a demonstration of public need, however, the time period for allowing such an expansion expired on December 31, 1995. The City of Albany, in their permit application, tried to circumvent this law by requesting DEC to “declassify” the Pine Bush aquifer. DEC rejected this argument and did not declassify the aquifer, however, it did grant a variance from the siting restriction, despite its location over the principal aquifer.
This latest landfill expansion is illegal, short sighted, and environmentally unethical. Not only will it further degrade the Albany Pine Bush, a globally rare ecosystem, but it also jeopardizes a potential water source. The City of Albany had 10 years to find an alternative solution to its garbage disposal needs. Albany politicians certainly benefit from the 7.3 million dollars in tipping fees that the landfill provides. That’s nearly 7% of the City’s budget. There is no doubt that without this revenue stream Albany politicians would have to make some tough budget decisions. However, that is no excuse to further pollute and degrade the regions most unique environmental resource. Instead of continuing the trend of abuse and neglect, we should be undoing the harm that has already been done. The original landfill is already polluting nearby ground water and streams. Rensselaer Lake and Patroon Creek are no doubt also affected by this mountain of trash. Efforts should be made to clean up what has been polluted, and prevent further contamination. The Pine Bush is internationally recognized, and has the potential to be a world class preserve. How ridiculous it must seem to the rest of the world to be dumping our garbage in the middle of such a threatened environmental treasure. Equally disturbing is DEC’s indifference to their own laws. The granting of this permit not only threatens the Pine Bush aquifer, it potentially endangers principal aquifers throughout the entire state. A heavy price to pay for our inability to reduce the amount of trash we now produce. It is our hope that in the future DEC and the City of Albany will heed the words of Governor George Pataki: “In the past, others have argued that environmental protection and economic growth were mutually exclusive. We have proven them wrong. In this new century, Americans will turn to New York to see the truth: environmental protection is the foundation for the quality of life that makes this a great state to live in , to do business in and to create jobs. Not only can we pursue these goals simultaneously, we must.” A healthy Pine Bush will mean a healthy capital district.
The Pine Bush is a globally rare ecosystem and is the largest inland pine barrens of its kind in the United States. There would be no Pine Bush today if it were not for the efforts of Save the Pine Bush, a not-for-profit, all volunteer organization dedicated to Pine Bush preservation. Save the Pine Bush has been filing lawsuits against municipalities for their illegal approvals of developments in the Pine Bush for more than 22 years.
Last Updated 7/19/00
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