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Community Leaders, Environmentalists Oppose Garbage Burn Proposal

A proposal to bring trash from Connecticut to Ravena for incineration is under fire from Albany County officials and a former top Environmental Protection Agency appointee.

Environmentalists say it’s a worst-case scenario: An old incinerator in Hartford is being shut down, and 70 Connecticut municipalities shopping around for a new place to dispose of solid waste have the Lafarge plant in southern Albany County in their sights.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck

Capital District leaders held a news conference Wednesday in the town of Coeymans. Among them, former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, who lives in Rensselaer County.    "So this would be 116,000 tons of solid waste burned annually in Ravena over 30 years. This would be a major source of air pollution, even with the upgrades at the Ravena plant. The contaminants I'm most concerned about are heavy metals. Mercury. Lead. Arsenic. And also, if they pull out some of the recyclables in Connecticut, they're going to have a lot of plastic left over. It's very hard to recycle plastics, especially plastic packaging of other than the number one and number two plastics. What happens when you burn plastic? Burning plastic forms and releases dioxins and furans, the most toxic human-made chemicals known in science."

The plan fielded by California-based Mustang Renewable Power Ventures invoked memories of the now-shuttered downtown Albany ANSWERS plant:   "...which operated in the Arbor Hill-Sheridan Hollow area of Albany that ran from 1981 to 1984 burning 360 tons of solid waste a day. That was shredded solid waste. That was reuse-derived fuel. There was such a significant air-pollution problem with that incinerator that it was closed after about 12 years, even though the state had hoped to run it for 25 to 30 years."

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy sent a letter to Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy expressing strong opposition to the proposal. Deputy County Executive Phil Calderone acknowledged that Lafarge is an important economic driver in southern Albany County.    "But this proposal just cannot happen. We need an unequivocal expression from them that they will not begin the process at any time of converting waste energy in the Coeymans area."

Enck says officials in Connecticut will make a decision by December 31st.   Chris Collibee with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection responded to a request for comment regarding Lafarge via email, writing in part: "If this bidder were to be selected – and they are one of three finalists – they will be required to develop a final project that meets all federal and state environmental as well as human health standards and permitting requirements."

Enck suggests Connecticut "go back to the drawing board" and do a comprehensive zero waste strategy. She's asking Lafarge to compose a written document affirming it will not be party to any such plan.

Although invited, no one from Lafarge attended the press conference. Officials with Lafarge directed WAMC to a quarter page ad the company placed in Tuesday's Albany Times Union, insisting Lafarge is not interested in Connecticut’s garbage. It says in part, "we are as upset as others about being named, without our consent, as a potential destination for these materials."

Coeymans Town Board Member Tom Dolan:  "I am willing to take Lafarge at their word that they are not interested in this proposal, but that doesn't in any way relieve our obligation as town board members not to follow through and make sure that we put protections in place for the next thing that may come down the road."

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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