Both sides see silver lining in landfill debate
By RICK MILLER, The Times Herald 02/13/2005

The developer of the proposed Farmersville landfill and its opponents have both found hope in a recent development in the state review of the project.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a brief last month opposing Chautauqua County’s request to reopen the department’s 1996 conceptual review decision.

The conceptual review gave Integrated Waste Systems of Niagara Falls approved the site off Route 98 in Farmersville. The applicant still has to apply for state DEC permits to build and operate the landfill.

Integrated Waste officials were heartened by the DEC’s recommendation not to reopen the review. At the same time, opponents were encouraged by wording in the recommendation they feel shows support for new issues they want to bring forward.

The Jan. 19 brief, signed by Annette M. Sassone, DEC assistant regional attorney, stated, “The decision to be made is not whether a landfill can be sited at the Farmersville location, but whether the landfill designed by the applicant can be constructed and operated at the Farmersville site in compliance with current regulations.”

The brief also states, “Only two issues were certified for adjudication: 1) whether the site overlay a principal aquifer and 2) whether the site was sufficiently stable to support a landfill.”

Chautauqua County, which operates its own landfill in the town of Ellery and where the Cattaraugus County Public Works Department’s Solid Waste Division disposes of county garbage it collects, and others objecting to the IWS landfill in Farmersville, cited “relevant significant new information” in its request to reopen the conceptual review process.

The conceptual review should be reopened because of additional wetlands found at the site and new hydrogeology issues, Chautauqua County said in its motion last fall. Cattaraugus County, the City of Olean and Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, the grassroots organization that has fought the landfill since it was first proposed in the early 1990s, also filed motions in support of Chautauqua County.

However, the DEC brief states, the permit hearing currently before DEC Administrative Law Judge Kevin Cassutto “is the appropriate forum for addressing the wetland issues raised in Chautauqua County’s Motion to Reopen and the new issues regarding site hydrogeology raised in the CCCC’s submission in support of the county’s motion.”

Integrated Waste Services President William Heitzenrater told The Times Herald last week, “The DEC position is pretty much consistent with our own.” He contended that Chautauqua County and others trying to petition against the wetlands don’t have proper authority to petition at this point.

“A lot of the issues raised by CCCC and some of the other interveners are items previously raised in the conceptual review that we hung our hat on,” Mr. Heitzenrater said. “We wouldn’t have invested our money in the place if we didn’t think DEC was going to live up to the conceptual review process.”

He said, “Our challenge has been to provide the DEC and the community with the assurance that we can meet the Part 360 regulations with the (landfill) design. If we can do that, we have a right to have a landfill there. We must make sure the project can meet Part 360 or request variances to see that it can operate in a safe manner.”

Maureen Sheahan-McClure, president of Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County Inc., said the DEC staff’s brief not to reopen the conceptual review was not unexpected.

The DEC brief states: “Despite the objector’s attempts to reopen the Conceptual Review Decision, the Commissioner’s 1996 decision approving the siting of a solid waste management facility at the Farmersville location is binding on the Department and past all time limits for legal challenge.”

However, Mrs. Sheahan-McClure said she takes comfort in the DEC’s assertion that the wetlands issue and the effect of the landfill on Carpenter Brook’s trout spawning habitat are best addressed at Judge Cassutto’s hearing along with other permit issues.

Since DEC Commissioner Michael Zagatta approved the Conceptual Review, the CCCC really didn’t expect DEC staff to now recommend that it be reopened, she added.

Allegany environmental attorney Gary Abraham agreed that the DEC staff brief “is good news for us. They say they do not disagree with our issues. We are saying that not only is the siting study flawed, but that the new information on the trout nursery downstream shows the hydrogeology is not what IWS said it was.”

“Now we have new data on the wetlands,” Mr. Abraham said. “If we had that data at the time (of the conceptual review) this thing (landfill) would not have happened. What is good about the DEC staff brief is that they say we should bring these issues before the administrative law judge and not to the (DEC) commissioner to reopen the old decision.”

“I’m very optimistic we will get a chance to bring up these issues. Our position is that this is a poor site. New information has arisen that this is a poor site. It should have been disqualified back in 1996,” he added

The landfill encroaches on wetlands that were not mapped when it was first proposed, he said. “Their (IWS) plan is not in compliance with the regulations.”

Mr. Abraham predicted that “it will be far out into 2006 until we get a final decision.”

If the decision is eventually in favor of the landfill, Cattaraugus County, which has spent more than $300,000 fighting it [since 1991], will likely sue the DEC commissioner, he added.

©The Times Herald, Olean, N.Y. 2005