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Environmentalists Raise New Concerns About Industrial Waste In Rensselaer

WAMC Composite Image by Dave Lucas

Residents in an upstate city burdened by environmental problems are getting ready to take on one more.

Rensselaer is no stranger to environmental challenges after dealing with major industrial pollution and the Dunn Dump adjacent to the public high school. Now, BioHiTech, a Rockland County company, wants to truck in waste every year to a site directly on the Hudson River. Activists say 82 garbage trucks would travel through city streets to and from the facility every day.  Former EPA Regional Administration Judith Enck:

Credit Stop Trucks Assaulting Rensselaer
Trucks already haul waste materials to the Dunn Dump in Rensselaer.

"They want to truck in 150,000 tons of solid waste every year to the old BASF property, which is directly on the Hudson River. And they have this idea that they want to dig these big pits that will be inside large buildings where they would dump solid waste and then theoretically pull out paper and plastic. They would shred it and dry it, so it's like dried confetti, and then they would truck that paper and plastic out to a cement plant to be burned."

Dave Ellis is Chairman of the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition. He says the proposed plant presents a huge environmental threat.

"It's right on the Hudson River on the old BASF site, a toxic brownfield. They would be disturbing the site by digging two huge pits in the ground and filling those pits with waste. A hundred year flood zone, maybe even less today, there's a possibility of contaminating the Hudson River. Seven communities south on the Hudson get their drinking water from the river, and we are already under threat from the Dunn Landfill here in Rensselaer. The waste from Dunn Landfill, leachate waste, is trucked to the Menands POTW where it is then discharged directly into the Hudson River. So this is the wrong facility at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Republican Mayor Mike Stammel says the only thing Rensselaer is concerned about is that BioHiTech goes through the proper channels and conduct any environmental reviews deemed necessary in order to get the approval to build the plant.

"Obviously there's a number of concerns, especially to do with the historical Hudson River. Truck traffic, as it has been pointed out in the past as well, and additional dump in the city, if anything, is an image problem. But we're gonna let the people, let the powers to be, make those decisions. And that way even probably the Common Council, they in the past have passed resolutions in support of programs one way or another and they may do the same thing here."

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

Enck says the state Department of Environmental Conservation has rejected issuing permits for this project.

"However, BioHiTech is trying again. They are applying for a state permit and the New York State DEC is holding a virtual public hearing, that's an online public hearing for a state permit, where the public is urged to attend and voice their opinion. This is going to take place on Tuesday, October 6th, at 5 p.m. and members of the public need to register in advance with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation . You can participate on your computer, or if you don't want to do it on the computer you can call in on the telephone." (Scroll to the bottom for instructions)

Enck sees siting the plant in Rensselaer as an equity issue.

"And it's an environmental justice issue, because you don't see these concentrations of polluting facilities in more affluent communities."

BioHiTech's official response: 

  • The planned facility has been described as one of the most benign solid waste facilities ever proposed to the NYS DEC.  This facility will not accept hazardous waste or construction waste as it has been described by certain uninformed members of the public. 
  • The proposed technology utilizes a patented process of converting waste into an EPA recognized renewable fuel while keeping waste from being trucked hundreds of miles to be buried in landfills.  This is a technology that should be welcomed as an alternative to just burying our trash in other peoples’ back yards.  The technology solves multiple environmental problems – reducing landfill disposal and the carbon footprint of the facilities using the fuel.
  • The capital district continues to have a crisis on its hands regarding the disposal of its municipal waste.  This project will help to solve that crisis. 
  • The company underwent a rigorous process of obtaining local permits including performing traffic studies and participating in multiple public hearings. 
  • The project also went through a vigorous review by the NYSDEC, which included several public hearings under the Environmental Justice program administered by the DEC.  That review demonstrated that the project meets or exceeds all DEC regulatory standards and that there will be very minimal impacts to the local community.  
  • The Company was wrongfully denied its permit from the DEC based upon a rationale that is without precedent or legal foundation.  We look forward to once again describing the many positive impacts that this project can have on the environment as well as the significant positive economic impact it will have to the City.

       Frank E. Celli, CEO, BioHiTech Global

DEC commented via an email statement: "DEC subjects all applications for environmental permits to an extensive and transparent review process that encourages public input at every available step. DEC conducted a careful review of the BioHiTech application for permits to construct and operate a new municipal solid waste processing facility in the city of Rensselaer to determine if all applicable standards and legal requirements would be met. The review process included public meetings in the City of Rensselaer as part of DEC’s Environmental Justice public participation requirements. On Aug. 10, 2020, DEC determined that the application should be denied. DEC’s review determined the process was not in full compliance with State Environmental Quality Review requirements and that further proceedings before the City of Rensselaer Planning Commission would be necessary before the DEC permitting process may continue. DEC will continue to work with the Rensselaer community to ensure the protection of public health and the environment."

ON BACKGROUND: The applicant is contesting DEC’s denial and the matter has been referred to DEC’s Office of Hearings and Mediation Services. DEC is holding a virtual public hearing to receive public comments on the permit application on Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. For more information on how to participate, go to: https://www.dec.ny.gov/enb/20200909_hearings.html

You must sign up in advance to attend the hearing using the specific directions below:

To Register, visit http://www.webex.com click “join,” input the event number listed above, click “Register,” and fill in the requested information. You will be asked if you want to make a public statement or not. After registration is complete, you will receive an email with information on how to join the hearing. Further details on the process can be found at https://www.dec.ny.gov/enb/121298.html. You can also pre- register by phone by calling NY DEC at 518 402 9003

Event number 173 398 2327; password: Oct6-5PM

To join by phone only  1-518-549-0500, access code 173 398 2327

More info Rensselaer Environmental Coalition at:



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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