What began with a charge for exceeding the limit of annual waste in the Colonie Landfill has turned into political blows with accusations raised over residents’ health and safety not being top priority for town officials.
Last month, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) fined the town $530,000 for taking in too much waste in 2014. Waste Connections, the Texas-based company that runs the town’s landfill, reimbursed the fee.
Now, Christine Benedict, Republican candidate for town supervisor, is accusing current Democratic Supervisor Paula Mahan of ignoring the problem and putting campaign funds before the public’s safety.
A DEC report dated Sept. 18 stated Capital Region Landfills, a subsidiary of Waste Connections, took in too much alternate daily cover (ADC). ADC consists of material to cover solid waste to alleviate litter and odor, such as “petroleum contaminated soils, municipal incinerator ash and auto shredder fluff,” according to the DEC.
Under Capital Region Landfill’s permit with the Town of Colonie, the company can take in no more than 255,840 tons of solid waste per year, or 820 tons per month. The permit did not state a limit on ADC amounts.
The DEC report states the company took in 254,238 tons of solid waste in 2014, in addition to 214,521 tons of ADC per year, or 688 tons per day, equaling out to 84 percent of the weight in solid waste taken in.
According to the report, DEC officials felt the amount of ADC was excessive and exceeded the daily cover “specific in the approved permit application and required under applicable solid waste regulation.” Any ADC accepted that exceeds the permitted amount is considered solid waste and counts toward the landfill’s annual limit, the report said.
This caused the DEC to fine the town $530,000 for exceeding the specified tonnage in the permit. Waste Connections reimbursed the town, so neither taxpayers nor the town will be financially impacted.
According to Mahan, the permit never specified a limit on the amount of ADC to be taken in, although the DEC, Town Board and Waste Connections agreed that adding a 25 percent cap on the ADC take-in would clarify the allotted amount. The 25 percent puts the Colonie Landfill at the same rate as the City of Albany’s.
Overall, Mahan said the DEC was happy with its negotiations with Capital Region Landfills. “If the DEC wants them to take in less, then that’s what they’ll do,” she said, and that “The town does not pay any money for any fines involved. Any operating costs are paid for by Capital Region Landfills.”
“If you look historically, landfills occasionally face a fine for this or that,” said Mahan. Since the landfill is managed by a private company, issues are often resolved “quickly and as fairly as possible” without impact on residents.
However, Benedict said Mahan “strong-armed” the Capital Region Landfills 25-year contract in 2011, for which the town has received $38 million in the four years since it was enacted. That money helped the town get out of its $29.3 million deficit it faced in 2008, said Mahan.
Rather than being concerned for the health and safety of taxpayers, Benedict said Mahan accepted cash donations from Waste Connections for her political campaign, as well as looked the other way while Waste Connections “violated state permits by overstuffing the landfill.” Reports have come out stating the company still pockets $3.6 million by doing so, even with the fine, said Benedict.
“Right now, we cannot trust Paula Mahan and this administration with our health and safety,” Benedict said at a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 6. She said were she to be elected as supervisor, she would terminate the contract with Waste Connections “due to fraud and theft of Colonie disposal capacity,” bring legal action against Waste Connections and find new management for the landfill. She also said she would stop material from outside of Colonie being brought to the landfill, and request an environmental impact study on potential damage to the Mohawk River.
“As it stands now, Waste Connections will leave Colonie with an environmental liability that taxpayers will have to finance and maintain. Why should we be on the hook for Paula’s mistakes?” Benedict said.
Mahan, however, said these accusations were false. “Not only does Ms. Benedict demonstrate her lack of understanding of operations, she has proven her willingness to use scare tactics to put the town finances at risk in order to frighten our residents for political gain,” she said.
Not only would the taxpayers not see any financial burden, but Waste Connections also did not break the law, as there was no cap on ADC tonnage in the original permit, Mahan said.
By bringing Waste Connections in as management, Mahan said the landfill – one of the town’s largest assets – went from losing revenue, to helping the town clear its deficit.
Addressing rumors of the landfill closing due to the overstuffing, Mahan said Capital Region Landfills is currently working with the DEC to open up the next cell of the landfill, with it being at the end of its sixth.
“I’m being told the landfill is going to close in three years. That also is a bunch of nonsense. Capital Region Landfills, under Waste Connection operation, is doing exactly what they should be doing, and they are in the process of the permit with DEC, which is required to build the next cell, which is nothing new,” said Mahan.
The rumors began with the current permit with DEC expiring in 2018. Mahan said the sixth cell was projected to close then in accordance to 2001 studies, and the next cell developed is within the landfill’s original footprint.
“With their expertise and new tech, and they have the capital to keep investing in the landfill, that the landfill will keep going beyond 25 years,” Mahan said.
Of the campaign funds from Waste Connections, Mahan said she has never “strong-armed” a business into donating to her political campaign, and holds fundraisers like anyone who runs for office.
“When I came here in 2008, I came here with my integrity. I told people I would tell them the truth… The truth now is that we’re doing well,” said Mahan. “At this point, there is no cost to taxpayers. The only thing the operators bring to us is revenue.”
Waste Connections could not be reached for comment.