Farmersville Landfill Proposal
A proposal by Integrated Waste Systems, Inc. ("IWS"), to construct a 3,000 ton-per-day regional landfill has been kept alive for 18 years in the Town of Farmersville. IWS's application to DEC for permits stalled after the judge reviewing the proposal ordered the company to undertake additional studies to prove it's safe. DEC has rarely denied a permit for a new landfill, and never for a large regional dump. However, on January 9, 2008, Cattaraugus County took IWS's land in Farmersville after the company failed pay three years of back taxes. That should end the story of this proposal.
EARLY HISTORY OF THE PROPOSAL
In 1989 Robyn Burrell, heavily in debt to the Farmers Home Administration, was milking his cows when Bill Heitzenrater and Tonawanda junkyard owner Ken Lefler approached him with $2,000 cash in hand. When the two told him they wanted his 189 acres for a campground, and that he could be the caretaker, Burrell sold his farm on the spot.
The two had already visited the recently widowed Leah Burlingame next door to whom they gave the same pitch. She sold too, but next spring she was shocked to see Heitzenrater at a Farmersville Town Board meeting announcing, on behalf of IWS, the combined parcel would be used to landfill 3,000 tons per day of metropolitan garbage.
IWS held an option with Lefler on all the land. Burrell and his wife were kicked off the land, still $20,000 in debt, and with no job offer from IWS. (See Buffalo News, September 8 and October 13, 1991.)
1990: IWS INTIMIDATES THE TOWN BOARD INTO DROPPING THEIR OPPOSITION TO THE PROPOSAL
IWS sued the Town in 1990 for a favorable local landfill law and a contract guaranteeing a local permit upon grant of a state permit. The 1991 Town Board settled with IWS, giving them what they wanted. On May 27, 1991, Business Week reported IWS had a "new landfill site in Farmersville, N.Y., which recently received local approval to start operating next year."
It wasn't quite that easy. It's the end of the year 2000 and IWS has neither a local permit nor a state (NYSDEC) permit to operate.
Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, Inc. (CCCC), was formed in 1991 and urged the City of Olean and the Cattaraugus County Legislature to study the probable effects of a large commercial landfill on the water supply. In 1992 the County Health Department and an independent research firm hired by Olean each concluded groundwater and surface waters would be contaminated if the proposal became a reality. The county's population center at Olean, as well as well-water users between the Farmersville site and Olean, would be directly threatened. Contamination from the landfill would reach the City's water supply (Olean Creek surface water) in a matter of days.
1992: CCCC SUES THE TOWN OF FARMERSVILLE
In 1992, CCCC filed a lawsuit against the Town for a deficient review of the IWS proposal prior to acting to contract with the company. The case went to trial and a final decision was issued by NY Supreme Count Judge Judge Sprague in 1994. Judge Sprague ruled that the Town did violate the law, but the Town's decision to contract with IWS is properly settled at the ballot box, by Farmersville voters, not by the courts.
1994: CATTARAUGUS COUNTY & CITY OF OLEAN
JOIN THE OPPOSITION
In 1994 the county and Olean, as well as CCCC and the Town of Farmersville appeared as party-opponents in NYSDEC's "conceptual" review of the proposal. Some comments by Franklinville Town and Cattaraugus County officials from this period are posted on our comments page. By the end of 1994 IWS, faced with soaring debt, was forced to sell off most of its assets, including its lucrative waste hauling contract with the City of Buffalo, purchased by CID for $8 million. At that time CID was reportedly "negotiat[ing] with Integrated Waste to purchase the Farmersville landfill." (Buffalo News, 11/8/94) However, IWS completed a preliminary application for NYSDEC "conceptual" approval.
1996: NYSDEC GRANTS PRELIMINARY APPROVAL, BUT NO PERMIT
Following hearings in August of 1995, in 1996 IWS received conceptual approval from the NYSDEC for a municipal solid waste landfill in Farmersville. NYSDEC ruled that it was possible to build a landfill with a maximum capacity of 690,000 tons per year on a site with a 30 percent slope located amidst surface-level groundwater (active springs) and wetlands. However, the ruling made it clear that IWS still had to submit an application for a permit to construct and operate a landfill. In its permit application IWS would have to show in detail how it plans to engineer such a landfill.
The 1996 proposal excluded New York City garbage.
1997: THE CATTARAUGUS COUNTY PARK PLAN
In 1997 Cattaraugus County prepared an environmental impact statement for a proposal to take the proposed landfill site by eminent domain for use as a county park. This is closer to the purpose originally represented to the original landowners when agents of IWS purchased the land in 1990. The County's park plan remains under active consideration.
1997: IWS SLIPS INTO FINANCIAL TROUBLE
AND IS PURCHASED BY STWS
Unable to obtain payment and performance bonds, in 1997 IWS was forced to sell its remaining transfer stations to Casella Waste Systems. In January, 1998, IWS was delisted from the NYSE after failing to submit required quarterly reports, and its stock price fell to a penny.
According to Cattaraugus County Clerk records, in January and February of 1998, the land proposed for a dump in Farmersville was sold to a new company, Southern Tier Waste Systems (STWS), for a combined total of over $5 million, including parcels sold by Ken Lefler to STWS for half that amount.
In March, 1998 IWS was purchased for one dollar by STWS, subject to a royalty agreement among IWS, STWS, and another entity, Integrated Waste Services, Inc. (IWSS), under which IWS and STWS must pay IWSS $1.75 per ton for waste disposed at the proposed Farmersville landfill. James F. Williams signed as Chairman of IWSS, and William Heitzenrater signed in two places, as President of IWS and as President of STWS.
This royalty agreement would be in addition to the royalties provide to the Town of Farmersville under its agreement with IWS, which provides for payments of between $2.75 and $3.50 per ton, depending on the rate of disposal. (There are no other financial benefits to the Town provided for under the agreement.)
The Board of Directors of STWS is comprised of Heitzenrater of AFI (Aquatic Fantaseas, Inc.), Ken Lefler, and Patrick M. Balkin, an attorney in Lockport, NY.
2001: IWS LINKED WITH CASELLA AND
WASTE MANAGEMENT OF NEW YORK
In 2001 the Buffalo News reported that former IWS Chief Engineer Vincent J. Grandinetti works for Casella Waste Management of New York as Western Region Engineer. Casella purchased all remaining space in IWS's leaking Schultz Landfill, but IWS insists it is running the company on its own. Residents near the C&D landfill believe exposure to toxic substances from the landfill is connected to a high incidence of cancer, respiratory and autoimmune diseases. ("Neighbors want landfill shut for public health study," Buffalo News 2/21/01)
William Heizenrater was reported in the news to be looking for a big waste company with which to affiliate. That could be Casella, or it could be Waste Management. In the early 1990s Heitzenrater hatched a scheme to "recycle" an old leaking landfill in Albion, NY, that had become subject to a state Superfund cleanup order, into a newer, "start-of-the-art" landfill to be constructed alongside the old landfill. After convincing the Albion town board it was a good idea, Heitzenrater sold out to Waste Management. Almost a decade later, in December, 2003, the DEC issued permits for the new landfill in Albion to Waste Management.
2003: DEC FINDS IWS PERMIT APPLICATION IS "COMPLETE"
The Farmersville landfill proposal has gone through some changes since 1996, including an increase in capacity to 915,000 tons, then a decrease to about 600,000 tons, but the plan still includes up to 3,000 tons per year. That's over ten times what Cattaraugus County produces, and little or none of it would come from the county. And now a 300-mile radius is the market specified to support this much waste, which includes New York City and Canadian garbage.
BOTH THE COUNTY AND THE TOWN ENACT
NEW LANDFILL LAWS
Today the composition of the Farmersville Town Board has changed, and no members from 1991 are left on the Board. The board members believe since their defeat by IWS pressure in 2000, they'd just better take the money.
Early in 2000 the Cattaraugus County Legislature added a number of more stringent safety measures to its own landfill law. The proposed Farmersville landfill could not be approved under the County's law. However, the County's law applies only where a town within the county has no landfill law. Until it repeals its local landfill law, Farmersville residents interested in environmental and health protection get no benefit from the County's law.
Solid opposition from Concerned Citizens and all neighboring municipalities has backed consistent by the County to put an end to the IWS proposal. The County was finally given the opportunity to do after IWS failed to pay nearly $400,000 in back taxes by the end of 2007. A foreclosure proceeding on January 9, 2008 awarded title to IWS's land in Farmersville. The only other shoe to drop is the County's final disposition of the land. We urge the Farmersville Task Force to develop a recommendation to the Legislature. The least costly and most sensible outcome would be the establishment of a "primitive" park on the land, with minimal upkeep, following the County's own 1997 park plan.