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Environmentalists seek Rensselaer County Department of Health probe of Rensselaer’s Dunn Landfill

The entrace to the Dunn facility off Partition Street Ext.
Lucas Willard / WAMC
The entrance to the Dunn facility off Partition Street Ext.

Continuing its opposition to the renewal of the operating permit for the Dunn Landfill, the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition wants the county Department of Health to probe the dump.

Since the S.A. Dunn Landfill 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 heavy truck traffic through neighborhoods along the route to the site.

The Rensselaer Environmental Coalition is stepping up its efforts to close the dump permanently.

Bob Welton, an East Greenbush town resident, is treasurer of the group.

"And one of the things that has happened, which makes the current situation very interesting, is there's now something called ‘Environmental Justice,’ which the Department of Environmental Conservation uses, when any community that is either minority or sort of poverty, percentage based on census, they require that any new or renewal permit sometimes, to do an enhanced review, which means they have to reach out to the community and get community input," said Welton. "And so that's what's happening this time, because the permit is up for renewal in July, and the Dunn landfill has to file its application within the next two weeks. So shortly that will probably happen. And that'll start the process, but it's almost like a new application. So that's going to be a great chance for the public to become, you know, very involved in this and possibly stop the landfill.

Coalition attorney Colleen Pierson, of the Albany law firm O’Connell and Aronowitz, addressed the County Legislature last week, citing a letter she sent to the Rensselaer County Public Health Director on December 15th.

"And in that letter, I discussed a petition that I attached to the letter that the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition got together with 150 people on that petition who want action taken to resolve the issues that they've dealt with, from the operations of the Dunn landfill," said Pierson. "And so I wrote to the public health director, attaching that petition and informing her of New York State Public Health law that requires her to investigate complaints concerning nuisances or causes of danger or injury to life, to the people within her health district. And I discussed the negative health impacts that are being caused by the landfill, particularly the school is located a stone's throw away from the landfill, and what those students are really dealing with down the road could be serious health impacts from the landfill. So not only did I let her know about that, but also the fact that she has every right and actually has to conduct an investigation now that she's been presented with this complaint.”

Pierson says she has not heard back from any county officials.

County Health Commissioner Mary Fran Wachunas did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WAMC.

Pierson has criticized the hotline set up to take complaints about the landfill.

"The landfill manages the hotline, they answer the phone, they take the complaints, and they're supposed to accurately report these complaints to DEC," Pierson said. "The potential violator is going to take those complaints about themselves and send it to DEC. That is a huge conflict of interest."

The DEC issued a statement which says in part: "The Dunn landfill must operate according to DEC’s stringent permits and other requirements DEC has put in place. DEC is committed to protecting the environment and public health of the City of Rensselaer and its residents during the ongoing operations of the Dunn facility."

Rensselaer's Republican Mayor Mike Stammel is the former chairman of the Republican-controlled county legislature:

"Far as the attorney representing the Rensselaer Environmental Committee, she has not been in touch with me, not as the chairman of the county legislature when I was chairman up there prior to January 1, or as the mayor of the city of Rensselaer for the past two years, but I sure would be happy to speak to her," said Stammel. "I do believe though that that in order to best put a be on the offense here against the landfill, we will need to have an attorney and to represent not only the city of Rensselaer, but the town of East Greenbush and the county. I will be going to the legislative meeting this Tuesday night to speak about the resolution that's before the county legislature and encourage them to again, support the closure of the dump."

The S.A. Dunn landfill declined to comment. Below is a photocopy of the Coalition Attorney's letter:

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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