by Tom Ellis
RENSSELAER, NY: The Rensselaer Environmental Coalition continues its four-year-campaign to immediately close the construction and demolition debris dump in Rensselaer while dealing with an unresponsive state government.
Residents of Rensselaer and East Greenbush (R&EG) remain disgusted with how the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) takes odor and other complaints about the dump. DEC set up a system where people dial a DEC-supplied telephone number that is answered by Dunn Waste Connections — the owners of the landfill the caller is complaining about.
Many R&EG residents would like to be able to report directly to DEC without dump owners knowing they complained. DEC refuses to allow this. Some R&EG residents fear retaliation if they complain. Some wonder if the complaints they make are actually forwarded to DEC. There is no transparency in the complaint reporting system so it is impossible to know if Dunn forwards all complaints to DEC or if DEC has any way of knowing for sure that all complaints are forwarded. Many R&EG residents believe that far more complaints would be reported if they did not have to first pass through the dump owner, and DEC may have established the system this way for exactly that reason.
DEC has refused to set up a telephone complaint system answered by DEC or where people could leave a complaint on a DEC telephone answering system. DEC has refused to set up an email account to take Dunn Waste Connections complaints.
No system exists for Rensselaer residents to report their continuing complaints about heavy tractor trailer traffic through downtown and Partition Street into and from the dump. Some R&EG residents report dump and truck-related complaints via email directly to the DEC regional director.
DEC defends the existing complaint system saying that dump owner immediately become aware of the complaint, and thus responsible for investigating and mitigating the complaint. DEC says it would be impractical for regional staff in Schenectady to travel to Rensselaer to investigate each complaint.
The Rensselaer school campus adjoins the dump. NYS Department of Health (DOH) and DEC met with R&EG residents at the Rensselaer school campus in February 2020 about the dump. This event reminded many of a noisy school science fair where each presenter had a table set up with a display. All conversations were one-to-one or between small groups. The state made no formal presentation, nor did it answer any questions on the record. During the first hour, when most attended, the room was crowded and conversations difficult to hear.
School staff and students told DEC and DOH that dump odors had permeated the school building earlier that same day. The only handout DEC and DOH brought to this community meeting was a single sheet of paper with DEC talking points that DOH endorsed. DOH did not bring any scientific reports about dump odors and health. Follow up requests from me for such reports were ignored.
The dump opened in January, 2015. The dump’s permit expires in the middle of 2022. If the dump owner desires to renew it, DEC must receive an application by the first day of next year and DEC will treat any renewal request as a brand new application. Residents believe dump owners are using the list of names obtained from dump complaints to assist in their permit renewal preparations. Dump owners will likely assert that dump odor complaints are reduced from 2019-2020 and thus DEC should renew the permit for at least five more years. Many see DEC’s behaviors as evidence DEC is assisting Dunn Waste Connections with the permit renewal.
Should a dump application be filed, REC will participate in the flawed permit process while simultaneously continuing our larger campaign to immediately close the dump. This includes conducting surveys of residents, petitions, lawn signs, working without outside experts, and with the Town of East Greenbush, whose town board remains united in favor of immediately closing the dump.