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South End Residents Prepare For Another Environmental Battle

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.
Dave Lucas
October 2019: Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in Albany's South End..

Residents and environmental activists are concerned about plans to expand a solid waste permit in Albany’s South End.

Waste Management operates a transfer station at the Port of Albany. The company is applying to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit modification that would add municipal solid waste to the list of the acceptable materials processed at the facility.

South End resident Dom Calsolaro is a former Common Councilor who is leading the fight against trucking more garbage in.

"Currently, the transfer station can only accept construction and demolition, debris or recyclables or other dry, what would be called dry material waste. So MSW, putrescible waste is really a common phrase, it's really just garbage. What they would be picking up in front of people's houses, you know, you normal garbage pickup, and they would bring it to this facility, it would be dumped on a cement floor out of the garbage trucks, and then bulldozed or lifted by some type of construction equipment onto tractor trailers, then they would fill up the tractor trailers, which hold about three of these dump trucks full of garbage. And then they would shift the trailers probably out to the landfill."

Calsolaro has issues with the proposal.

"These trailers can sit on site up to seven days. It's organic waste, it's baby diapers and adult underwear and who knows what else is in there, food scraps, and there's no it's no, no odor control in the building. Their proposing as the sole odor control mechanism automatic doors that will open and closes these garbage trucks go in and out of the facility. We're talking about 165 to 170 garbage trucks a day. And that facility can hold up to 749 tons of waste a day."

Calsolaro says South End residents, who are mostly people of color and/or low-income, are outmatched against corporations such as Waste Management. He says the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation should not approve the amendments.

"It's always the economic path of least resistance," said Former Sierra Club President Aaron Mair. "And so when you look at why it's not, why a waste transfer station doesn't exist or sit up there next to Colonie Center or, you know, out there by Latham Farms or up in Clifton Park. Well, these zip codes, you got to look at everything from wealth, race, and class. So people there have the money, means and are very much likely to be aware that citing putrescible waste by massive tonnage will alter negatively the community that's adjacent and adjoining it, number one, number two, it will adversely affect your property values. But equally and more importantly, it will enhance the risk of affecting your health. Specifically, there's runoff from these things, there are vectors, vectors, like crows, rats, and other rodents, start to flood into these places and spaces."

Calsolaro is appealing to the Albany Common Council and the Albany County Legislature to pass resolutions opposing the proposal.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos says the agency is "totally committed to the health and welfare of every resident of the Albany South End."

"And we'll continue to engage the community on any project that can impact the neighborhood, especially this one. This is an environmental justice community. That means that our review must be informed by enhanced input from the public. So we've required Waste Management to hold a community meeting so that all residents have the chance to speak up and I certainly encourage all of them to do so. If the application progresses, we'll subject it to a rigorous review process that includes public input, at every available step. Right now we're in the midst of reviewing all of the application materials and we required additional information from the company. Ultimately, we'll take into account community input and subject the application to all state and federal standards, including the state's climate leadership and community Protection Act or CLCPA."

A spokesperson for Waste Management says the company “understands that a proposal like this needs to be carefully scrutinized due to its location” and has taken "significant steps" to mitigate any potential issues, in addition to a community benefits package for both the city and the community as well as potential career opportunities.

Two two-hour public hearings hosted by Waste Management that were to have been held virtually on April 29 have been postponed.

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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