A shot of workers at the Colonie landfill from June, 2017. (Jim Franco/Spotlight News)
COLONIE – The landfill expansion’s Final Environmental Impact Statement is smaller than the original proposal, and the state Department Environmental Conservation is expected to give a thumbs up or thumbs down in 10 days.
The FEIS required the footprint, known as Area 7, to be 500 feet from the river, 400 feet further than originally proposed. And it requires the height of the cell to be 467 feet above sea level, 50 feet lower than the original proposal.
Also, there will be an independent full-time, third party onsite to oversee all landfill operations. That person’s salary will be picked up by Waste Connections, the company the town contracts with to operate the landfill.
Matt McGarry, the town Department of Public Works engineer, said the fact the DEC accepted the FEIS and that they required some modifications to the original proposal is a positive sign for those who want to see the expansion.
The original 105-acre expansion would be trimmed to 93 acres because of the increased setback from the river and the height is 50 percent lower than originally proposed.
What that means as far as the life of the landfill is unclear until a new design, based on the new parameters, is formulated by the town and accepted by the DEC.
The town began the permitting process in 2014, McGarry said and it has been a long, difficult, road.
“I think this is a positive step, and we are happy we were able to get here,” he said. “It’s going to be a little smaller, and not operate quite as long, but it still lets us extend the life of the landfill and provide the solid waste management to local businesses and residents.”
One of the more controversial moves of Supervisor Paula Mahan was contracting the landfill’s operation out to a private contractor, Waste Connections, to help balance a struggling budget and provide the town with a steady revenue stream.
Critics say the 2011 deal – which gave the town an immediate $23 million payment and another $2.3 million over the first five years with $1.1 million annually for the remaining 20 years of the contract – shortchanged the town.
If the landfill did run out of room and was forced to close, there would be a $1.1 million hole in the budget.
“The Town is pleased with DEC’s acceptance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which is the next important step in the process,” Mahan said. “I believe the modifications are reasonable. We will continue to work with the Department of Environmental Conservation throughout this application process.”
The town will also get a “bonus” payment but how much is not clear until the final volume is figured out relative to the new configuration. According to Waste Business Journal, a trade publication, it will be between $2 and $10 million.
Leaders from towns near the landfill, namely Waterford and Halfmoon, are staunchly opposed to the expansion and will likely file a lawsuit to stop if from happening.
They have recruited Riverkeeper, an environmental group with the self-appointed duty of monitoring the environmental health of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, to add teeth to their argument that previously consisted of complaints about odor.
On Wednesday, March 21, Waterford Supervisor John Lawler said samples of Mohawk River water taken from an area of the river near the landfill indicate PFOA contamination.
“The initial application p for approval to pile an additional 12 million ton of trash on an unlined toxic landfill located less than 100 yards from the Mohawk River – should have been denied long ago,” he said. “That landfill is nothing short of an environmental time bomb, and piling more trash there will only make the landfill that much more of a threat.”
DEC officials have stated the testing were not done in a certified manner and are invalid. Riverkeeper found discharge from storm drains to contain PFOA levels of 68.3 parts per trillion. Mohawk River samples were about one to two ppt and samples taken from adjacent to the landfill were 519 ppt.
“Given the evidence, it is crystal clear that expanding the landfill is a bad idea for the river and the surrounding communities,” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper patrol boat captain and vice president for advocacy. “DEC must conduct additional sampling in and next to the landfill to identify the extent to which it is contaminated with PFOA and other hazardous substances, after which DEC must order a full remediation of the landfill to protect the Mohawk, local communities and drinking water.”
PFOA are a potential carcinogen found in different levels in nearly everything on the planet. It made national news in Hoosick Falls when extremely elevated levels – up to 130,000 ppt – were found in the Rensselaer County village’s drinking water and wells.
“Odor problems have had a direct impact on the quality of life for our residents that live in close proximity to the landfill,” said Town of Halfmoon Supervisor Kevin J. Tollisen. “All of these issues that affect the quality of life for Halfmoon residents, coupled with the test results that have been provided by Riverkeeper, show the landfill expansion should not be approved by NYS DEC.