A shot of workers at the Colonie landfill from June, 2017. (Jim Franco/Spotlight News)
Two towns north of the Colonie landfill came out against a proposed expansion of the Route 9 site along the Mohawk River.
Meanwhile, trash has become a hot topic in town with the election less than two weeks out.
Officials from Waterford and Halfmoon joined with Riverkeeper, a nonprofit agency with the self-designated mission of protecting drinking water in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley, to oppose expanding the landfill by 132 acres within the 212-acre landfill footprint.
“The existing permit for the landfill expires on Dec. 31, and we call upon DEC to do the right thing and to close this blight on the environment,” said Halfmoon Supervisor Kevin Tollisen in a statement.
The town initially asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation for permission to expand in 2014. In 2016, the environmental impact statement was deemed complete and opened to 70 days of public comment and public hearings in September and October, 2016.
In June, the DEC re-opened the public comment period to address three specific areas of concern: how the expansion would impact air quality, the impact to a hazardous waste site at the north end of the landfill and how it would impact an alluvium deposit (sand) in the event of an earthquake and whether or not it would quicken erosion into the Mohawk River.
“The Towns of Waterford and Halfmoon are opposed to this poorly planned, totally unneeded expansion, which is nothing less than attack on the Mohawk River ecosystem and on the quality of life of the thousands of residents whose homes border the already noxious landfill,” said Waterford Town Supervisor Jack Lawler.
Colonie Supervisor Paula Mahan said the town does need revenue from the landfill, but whether or not it is expanded is up to the DEC.
“The landfill helped save this town. The landfill itself was also going bankrupt. The numbers were not real in the budget, and money was being taken out, and also from water and sewer, to stop the bleeding in the general fund. That’s what was going on before I got here,” she said during a debate at the Radisson Hotel on Wednesday, Oct. 24. “The monitoring is done by DEC and we will abide by whatever DEC says.”
Her opponent, Frank Mauriello, the minority leader on the Albany County Legislature, said he was and remains against the lease to a private entity, Texas-based Waste Connections.
“The landfill was self-sustaining and it was making a profit,” he said of pre-Mahan years when he was on the Town Board, adding Mahan too has dipped into the landfill revenues to balance the budget.
Meanwhile, the landfill continues to fill up, and at the current rate will reach capacity sometime in 2018 without some sort of action.
Matt McGarry, the town public works engineer, said previously Waste Conenctions will need to limit tonnage sooner rather than later and if volume is scaled back, he said, municipalities outside of Colonie will be shut off first.
The proposed expansion does not, he stressed, allow for more tonnage per year at the site but will only allow the site to collect the same amount, about 255,000 tons a year. For how many years is up to how large the DEC allows the town to expand the landfill, if at all.
Mauriello and other Republican candidates have called for an audit of the landfill’s operations and he is calling for an immediate halt to all out-of-town waste disposal at the site.
“We need an environmental, a management and a financial audit of the landfill to make sure Waste Connections is abiding by the contract,” he said at the forum. “If they are not we need to negotiate a new contract or terminate the existing contract.”
He also said if the landfill does close, Colonie residents will pay at least twice as much for trash collection.
“We have more than enough audits done,” Mahan said previously. “The whole agreement [with Waste Connections] was completed with a certified committee who looked into the entire operation and it included the DEC because they are the ones who monitor the program. It was a very, very thorough review.”
It is unclear when the DEC will decide on whether to allow an expansion, and it’s not clear whether or not the nearly 50-year-old landfill is actually polluting the Mohawk River.
“The days when landfills were sited on the banks of rivers are over,” said John Lipscomb, the Riverkeeper patrol boat captain and vice president of advocacy. “The only appropriate action for this landfill is closure and remediation – not expansion.”
George Harris, a retired engineer who lives in Halfmoon’s Church Hill Historic District and an opponent of the landfill, said in a Riverkeeper press release that water samples taken by the DEC are inadequate.
“After two FOIL requests to the state DEC, the only water samples our group has received are from the Route 32 Waterford Cohoes Bridge, more than two miles below the landfill and downstream of the City of Cohoes water intake,” he said. “They are below the Falls and are essentially of no value in evaluating potential landfill impacts.”