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Landfills in the news and related solid waste policy news


We’ve posted recent news articles that cover in greater depth the latest chapter in New York City’s garbage crisis: Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposes to cut the city’s recycling budget in half and end recycling of metal, glass and plastic indefinitely, at the same time as the barge-to-rail system that was planned to take much of the city’s garbage to Arizona collapses. Organized crime connections to the Linden, New Jersey mega-transfer station that was to be a major hub of the rail proposal have probably killed the plan.

Continued transport of the city’s garbage to out-of-state landfills was ensured by the Supreme Court last week, when it refused to hear a challenge to Virginia’s state law restricting importation of waste. The challenge was predictably turned away, reaffirming the protection of interstate transport of waste provided by the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Congressional committees are debating legislation that would override the Commerce Clause for the eighth year in a row. But a federal flow control bill has yet to come to the floor.

As out next item shows, that hasn’t stopped supporters of big garbage business in Albany, who argue upstate needs more landfill space.


On February 27, the Environmental Facilities Corporation, connected to Governor Pataki’s office, proposed to issue $31 million in state general obligation bonds to finance landfill gas control systems and other engineering at the Chaffee and Model City landfills (both in Erie Co.) and the Mill Seat Landfill (Monroe Co.), owned and operated by garbage giant Waste Management. A week later came the announcement that the public hearing on the proposal was canceled, not to be rescheduled. On March 14, EFC and WMI closed on the financing deal, without a public hearing.

This idea was hatched undoubtedly in response to New York City’s waste crisis, but it’s exactly the wrong solution. The Chaffee Landfill has already received a notice of intent to sue from residents nearby who suffer the landfill’s failure to install gas controls called for years ago. They submitted scathing comments on the landfill's record of violations, for a Title V air permit last October.

This is not an isolated problem. In 2000 the NYSDEC Commissioner turned away an ALJ's recommendation that Waste Management's compliance history be examined in a hearing.  Among the evidence that was barred from a hearing was collusion between Waste Management in Monroe County and Waste Management of Virginia to dump regulated medical waste in a municipal landfill in Virginia.  After being prosecuted and fined by the Virginia Attorney General, Waste Management of New York violated the consent order by again dumping medical waste in Virginia, and was fined again. Other states like Indiana and municipalities like Cincinnati, San Diego and San Luis Obispo County, California, have refused to permit Waste Management to do business after examining their compliance history.

EFC approved nothing less than a reward for noncompliance. Supposedly issued for a public purpose, these bonds will help a private garbage company that posted $503 million in profits last year save operating expenses at the expense of nearby struggling publicly-owned landfills. The Chaffee Landfill, for example, has submitted a preliminary application to expand 139 percent, adding 71 acres of disposal area.

As we've pointed out in the past, adding to New York’s unused waste disposal capacity does not solve the garbage problem, it makes it worse. Making disposal more available will put farther off the day when New York City and other large cities make meaningful improvements in waste reduction. And this will only prolong the garbage crisis, shifting it increasingly onto the backs of rural “host” communities. How is that a public purpose?


Last month New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed cutting the city's recycling budget in half and ending indefinitely the recycling of glass, metal and plastic. In its March 12 issue the New York Times suggests Mr. Bloomberg's budget proposal reflects an erosion in "the spirit of recycling," and that waste reduction efforts are a matter of "eco-psychology" rather than tangible benefits. That's not how it looks from western New York.

The myopia of Mr. Bloomberg and the Times is at least partly rooted in the absence of any financial incentive to recycle. In western New York most residents must pay $1.50 for each 30-gallon bag of garbage they produce, but they're permitted to dispose separated recyclables for free. This rather than "the spirit of recycling" probably accounts for the near-50 percent recycling rate which prevails, at least in small towns and rural counties. And that's not because it's easier to recycle here: rural people generally have to pack up their garbage in their cars and pickup trucks and cart it to a transfer station. In Cattaraugus County, that's one of nine transfer stations in the county, spread over 1,300 square miles. Surely the economies of scale that urban areas offer would make the logistics of recycling less expensive per capita, not more.

The City has never taken any meaningful action to reduce waste, so Mr. Bloomberg's disregard for the region in which he lives is no surprise. For example, the City commissioned a study not too long ago that showed it could reduce 35% of its waste stream with packaging restrictions. We'll not hear about that any more.


The final round of NYSDEC comments has been returned to Integrated Waste Systems, Inc. of Buffalo, on their application for a permit to construct and operate a 690,000 ton-per-year landfill in Farmersville. In their cover letter to IWS, the agency said they expect that IWS’s responses will make the application “complete for public review, without the need for further revisions.” We take that to mean a hearing will be scheduled later this summer.

NYSDEC also shares our suspicion that Casella Waste Systems stands behind IWS: they've asked IWS to document the exact corporate relations between its new holding company Southern Tier Waste Systems and IWS, and to disclose all business associations either IWS or STWS has had over the last ten years. Strong circumstantial evidence links these firms to Casella: Former IWS engineer Vincent J. Grandinetti now works for Casella as Western Region Engineer, and Casella recently purchased IWS’s Schultz Landfill in Cheektowaga.

When NYSDEC granted site approval in 1996, on a 30 percent slope dotted with year-round springs located in the recharge zone for a major drinking water aquifer, opposition by the Cattaraugus County Legislature, the City of Olean, other surrounding muncipalities and CCCC was galvanized. We’ve posted our March newsletter, which includes detailed updates on the position of the parties, and how this proposal fits into the state’s confused solid waste policies.


Al Turi Landfill in Goshen (Orange Co.) is typical of the large commercial landfills that currently make up about 90 percent of the state’s permitted landfill capacity. Being the closest to the end of its operational life, Al Turi portends the future of its half-dozen cousins. (See our map of where these landfills are.)

Citizens Who Care, based in Goshen, and Orange Environment are waging a battle to shut the landfill down and obtain adequate cleanup and management arrangements. But these arrangements will have to extend for a half-century because emissions of landfill gas are estimated to exceed the level requiring controls until the year 2055. Leaking pollution may have to be managed for longer. The landfill is required to propose groundwater cleanup measures because nine monitoring wells on site and at least one off site showed excessive pollutants. As CWC, OE and dozens of citizens pointed out at a hearing on cleanup measures two weeks ago, groundwater runs beneath the site and is thought to contribute to leachate pollution to the Wallkill River, a few hundred feet away. Written public comments on the cleanup plan are due by March 20.

Current regulations for landfills in New York require an impermeable bottom liner below a system of pipes that extract leachate, and on the top daily cover and an impermeable cap on each garbage cell as it reaches capacity, to prevent precipitation entering the waste mass. It was thought when these regulations were developed that entombing the waste would insulate it from the environment and allow time to develop methods for mining the resources that were being preserved inside. The reality has turned out to be leaking landfills emitting toxic gases and operators unwilling to install the costly controls it takes to truly insulate the environment from the impacts of millions of tons of decomposing waste dumped in one spot. All of New York's mega-landfills behave just like the Al Turi Landfill and, like Al Turi, are located near drinking water aquifers that will eventually become polluted.

No one thinks anymore that emtombing waste in such massive structures is a temporary solution, or that someday we’ll extract valuable resources from the waste. These have become commercial ventures, insulated by the post-closure period under which the facility must be maintained for only 30 years. (Part 360-2.15(k)(4)).


***The Chautauqua County Landfill in Ellery has come up for Title V review for air emissions. The landfill’s application admits its gas collection system operates at less than 40 percent efficiency, far less than the 75 percent EPA expects of older landfills retrofitting to achieve compliance with the landfill gas rules. The public comment period ends March 25.

***Allegany County Landfill applied for a permit modification to increase the permitted daily tonnage of municipal solid waste received at its landfill by 49%, from 146 to 218 tons per day.

***The Oceanside Landfill applied for a Title V air permit. Although closed in 1988, the landfill has a gas collection system and proposes to send the gas to an electric generating facility operating internal combustion engines.

***The Town of Colonie Landfill (Albany Co.) seeks approval to expand by adding 20 acres on top of the old landfill and 22 acres of new landfill area, adding over 12 years to the landfill’s permitted life. The Town has determined the landfill expansion will no significant effect on the environment and therefore no environmental impact state is planned. A comment period is open until March 15.


***Waste Management of New York seeks a permit to expand the use of rail cars at its Harlem River Yard Transfer Station in the Bronx. A comment period is open until March 15.

***An amendment to Part 380 regulating radioactive wastes generated by the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium, and effectively excluding such wastes from landfills, became effective on Feb. 2, 2002.

***Tully Environmental will increase the capacity of its sewage waste treatment facility in Flushing (Queens Co.) from 900 tons per day to 900 tons per day and install “enhanced odor controls.”

***Regal Recycling will increase the capacity of its transfer station in Jamaica (Queens Co.) from 355 cubic yards per day (177.5 tons) to1200 cubic yards per day (600 tons).

***Last month the Cattaraugus County Legislature decided to look for another trash hauler after CCCC told them about the compliance history of Casella Waste Systems, parent company of the proposed hauler.

--Gary Abraham
Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, Inc.