Landfill watchdogs
As dumping capacity increases in Chemung, the Legislature must ensure stern oversight.
April 12, 2007
Star-Gazette (
In all likelihood, most of Chemung County's 88,641 residents couldn't give you directions to the county landfill in the town of Chemung. For them, the place might as well be invisible. They tie up their garbage bags, put them on the curb and watch the stuff disappear into a truck.

But for the 2,665 residents in the town of Chemung, it's a different story. The landfill is a neighbor. For most, it is a distant neighbor that doesn't give them any trouble, but for those living closest to the landfill, it's a presence they wish would go away.

That's not going to happen, at least not any time soon, and object as they may, those who don't like the landfill near their homes are in a vocal minority. Just the same, they must be heard, and the people who must continue to listen and monitor the very property those neighbors worry about are the 15 Chemung County legislators.

On Monday, the Legislature voted 13-2 to increase the capacity for dumping at the landfill by 50 percent, to 180,000 tons a year. In doing so, all but two legislators rejected pleas by the landfill's neighbors that the facility needs a full environmental review before it can take on more waste. Legislators apparently were satisfied that the executive branch of county government had done its job in checking all environmental risks before recommending that the landfill's private operator, Casella Waste Management, be allowed to dump an extra 60,000 tons of waste in the landfill each year.

The Legislature's decision, though, does not wash its hands of further oversight of the landfill. To the contrary, the lawmakers' decision in March to act as the lead agency supervising the landfill puts a legal and ethical responsibility on the 15 legislators to ensure that the facility is not an environmental threat.

That means not only must legislators review any health testing at the facility, but they must also ensure that additional truck traffic does not damage roads, cause debris to be left along roadsides and create any threat to motorist or pedestrian safety in the immediate area around the facility. Any needed remediation of such problems could come from the more than $90 million that the county will receive over the 25-year life of its contract with Casella.

None of this monitoring may satisfy neighbors who would sooner see the landfill close and move, but of course, the question is to where? What other town would want a landfill? The answer is obvious, so as long as it's going to be in Chemung, the landfill must be watched with a vigilance that will give some reassurance to neighbors even if it doesn't provide peace of mind. That's a job the Legislature must carry out with the utmost diligence.

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