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Public information session on Rensselaer’s Dunn Landfill held as DEC weighs permit renewal

Lou Sebesta lives on Partition Street, which leads to the landfill. He appears here at a June 2019 weekend rally in protest of the dumping of waste in the city.
Dave Lucas
Lou Sebesta lives on Partition Street, which leads to the landfill. He is shown here at a June 2019 weekend rally in protest of the dumping of waste in the city of Rensselear.

Dunn Landfill operators held a public meeting at the Rensselaer City School Auditorium this week with a permit renewal decision weeks away.

The marathon session followed one held at the high school in late May by the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition, after the city school board joined calls to shut the S.A. Dunn Landfill down.

Since the dump opened in 2015 on the site of a former sand and gravel mine bordering Rensselaer City schools, there have been concerns about student health and safety, with complaints of foul odors at the schools and noisy heavy truck traffic spewing air pollution through neighborhoods along the route to the site.

John Perkey, Vice President of Compliance & Government Affairs at landfill owner Waste Connections, led Tuesday night's meeting.

"The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the DEC, has recently designated a portion of Partition Street leading to the Dunn facility as a potential environmental justice area," said Perkey. "DEC Commissioner policy 29 provides guidance for incorporating environmental justice concerns into the DEC environmental permit review process. It provides that for public participation in conjunction with the permit renewal review, and that's what this meeting is intended to provide."

The landfill's existing permit granted by DEC expires in mid-July.

Perkey told attendees that the meeting was designed for S.A. Dunn to collect all comments and questions from members of the community related to its operations as well as the permit renewal.

"The panel will be providing complete responses to all questions and comments raised at this meeting and posting these responses as part of the public record on the Dunn facility website as well as the repository for the permit renewal application materials which is the Rensselaer Public Library," said Perkey. "The complete responses will be available by mid-July."

Todd Rutecki, with PARK, Parents Association for Rensselaer Kids, attended the session. He commended the operators for appearing in-person, saying they "took it on the chin” from unhappy residents.

"It was a good opportunity for residents and just members of the community as a whole, there were a number of people from outside Rensselaer to in a large part vent, given that we don't get an opportunity to speak to the landfill operators directly," Rutecki said. "That was a bit unusual, a different type of forum. And they listened. They did run a very professional meeting, they ensured to get to all the people who wanted to speak, and then made sure that anyone who had more to say could get back up and speak again, if they wanted to."

Also at the meeting: Bob Welton with the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition, who notes public comments were limited to two minutes each.

"There are probably 25 or 30 people who spoke in person. And there was only one person who was the second person to speak who was in favor of the landfill. And we know he's a Dunn employee," said Welton. "So, you know, it's sort of like understandable. But everybody else who spoke in person was opposed to the landfill and there were all kinds of varied presentations from people. I mean, I was prepared. Other people were extemporaneous.”

Dunn officials gave a synopsis of policies, procedures and activities involved in the daily operations of the landfill, as well as company efforts to comply with rules and regulations as the permitting process moves forward.

"It was really good," Welton said. "And the landfill people, the guy, the moderator, came from Waste Connections in Texas. And they didn't know what to say. They couldn't answer the questions. So the deal was that they're going to answer them in writing. The DEC Regional Director and the permanent administrator were in the audience listening to the whole thing."

Rutecki and Welton say comments covered issues that have all been addressed before including concerns about truck traffic and public health including noxious odors, wind-blown dust, fears of developing cancer or lung disease and curiosity about future plans for the landfill.

DEC Regional Director Anthony Luisi:

"DEC is committed to protecting public health and the environment of the city of Rensselaer and its residents during ongoing operations of the Dunn landfill. On June 14th, DEC observed the facility’s first Environmental Justice outreach meeting, as required for the facility’s renewal application. We listened to the questions and concerns expressed by the community and elected officials, and will be closely monitoring the company’s responses to issues raised this week and at all future meetings. Any determinations made regarding the renewal of the facility’s permits will be subject to comprehensive public comment opportunities," said Luisi.

The Rensselaer Environmental Coalition is holding a march to shut the Dunn Landfill down, Saturday at 10 a.m., stepping off from the Rensselaer School Parking Lot, marching to Partition Street Extension and back for an 11:30 rally. The group says the public is invited to attend.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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