Landfill proposal in Ava
The Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority has constructed a quarter-million ton-per-year, 1,000 ton-per-day landfill in the Town of Ava, with a planned life expectancy of 62 years. Due to the high water table, just as have applicants for landfill permits in Angelica, Albion, and Farmersville, in order to obtain a permit the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority required a waiver from the regulatory protections, which otherwise require a minimum separation of five feet between the base of the constructed landfill liner system and the groundwater level.
The landfill opened on October 24, 2006.
PROGRESS TO DATE
The DEC authroized permits for the landfill on March 19, 2004. However, the weight of public opinion in the local region remains against the dump, and opponents have not given up hope that the project can be stopped. Fouling of local waters, once pristine, have resulted from construction.
Two weeks after a public meeting in August, 1999, at the State University technology campus in Marcy, NY, where over 500 rural Oneida County citizens voiced unanimous opposition to the dump proposal, NYSDEC went forward with a four-day pre-hearing conference in Utica.
The hearing officer described the conference in these terms: "Because there were more people at the evening session than the auditorium could handle, many watched the proceedings from closed- circuit television monitors that were set up in the outside hallway and an adjacent cafeteria. Speakers against the project easily outnumbered those in favor, especially at the evening session, which featured an organized protest by project opponents. A caravan of about 90 vehicles, including three school buses, traveled from Boonville to the SUNY campus in Marcy for the evening session, the vehicles bearing 'anti-dump' balloons.
"In addition to people who live near the project site, landfill opponents attending the hearing included a large number of veterans, some in uniform or carrying American flags. They are particularly concerned about the project going forward near a forest that was dedicated a half-century ago by Oneida County as a veterans memorial. For more than a week prior to the hearing, a group called Veterans Defending Our Memorial Forest camped by the forest monument to protest the landfill siting. Many of those speaking against the project, especially at the evening session, were local veterans who called the landfill an offense to those who fought and died in the nation's wars. These speakers included representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, AMVETS, and Vietnam Veterans of America, many of whom had letters from their national organizations or affiliates across the country, which also condemned the landfill's placement near the forest and its memorial monument."
(Administrative Law Judge Edward Buhrmaster, Jan. 30, 2001)
On April 29, 2002, the Solid Waste Authority used eminent domain to take three parcels of land around the landfill site from private owners unwilling to sell.
Five weeks of permit hearings ended in September, 2002. Issues addressed in the hearings included whether the site is over a primary drinking water source, the effect of a landfill on critical bird habitat, and whether--since the site is in a wetland--the proposed groundwater supression system will cause leachate to be drawn out of the landfill into the environment.
DEC Freshwater Wetlands Appeal Board ruled on June 3, 2003 that DEC Staff had acted arbitrarily in denying a request by opponents to have wetlands surrounding the proposed landfill site reclassified. The wetlands, home to the American Bittern, a vulnerable bird species in New York State, are presently classified as Type II. The Board's ruling requires the DEC to reconsider classification to Type I. This meant, among other things, the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority must show an economic need for another 1,000-ton-per-day landfill in New York.
That should have been difficult, as New York's commercial landfills have consistently left between one and two million tons of permitted landfill space unused every year since at least April 6, 1999, when the New York Daily News reported, "At [New York City's] request, state Environmental Conservation Commissioner John Cahill last month identified millions of tons of excess capacity at 25 of the state's 41 disposal sites." Over 28 million tons, to be exact. Since Commissioner Cahill spoke, that amount has risen steadily: as of 2002, the DEC reported the top 25 landfills have over 52 million tons of permitted landfill space. The state's ten incinerators have almost as much capacity. However, the DEC Commissioner accepted the Authority's showing and, on March 19, 2004, directed that all required permits be issued for the dump.
PARTIES TO THE DISPUTE
The Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority is an autonomous government entity, apart from the Oneida or Herkimer county governments.
Most of the opponents--the Town of Ava; the Town of Boonville; the Village of Boonville; the Town of Lewis; ACAL (Adirondack Communities Advisory League, the principal citizens group opposed to the landfill); and three veterans' organizations--joined together as a common party during the DEC permtting process. Opponents proposed the following issues: hydrogeology; wetlands and species habitat; air quality; siting; need; transportation; and the psychological/cultural impact of proposed landfill construction near the Veterans Memorial Forest.
As the ALJ observed, opponents claimed in pre-hearing conference, "The [Oneida-Herkimer] Authority settled on the Ava site not because of its environmental merits, but because it is far from population centers, in a rural area whose residents, the Authority presumed, would lack the money, education and political clout to successfully resist the project. . . . a landfill in Ava might not take in enough waste to pay for itself, leading the Authority to sell or lease its permit to a private entity that would take in waste from outside the region, perhaps from as far away as New York City."
The ALJ noted even proponents of the landfill proposal conceded "it is preferable to have landfills operated by public entities that run them in the context of an overall plan for solid waste management, rather than by large private outfits more concerned with dominating the market so they can control disposal prices and maximize profits." However, he rejected the opponents' proposal for "a condition that prevents sale or transfer of the facility to private parties not also bound to restrict their receipt of waste to that generated within the two counties."