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Rensselaer School Board calls for closure of Dunn Landfill

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

The Rensselaer School Board has joined the call to shut down the Dunn Landfill.

Since the 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.

Citizens, environmental groups and elected officials have been calling for Dunn's closure, asking the current state permit not to be renewed when it expires in June 2022. Now the Rensselaer School Board has written the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, urging the agency not to renew Dunn's operating permit. Rensselaer City Schools Superintendent Joseph Kardash says the letter is a "no-brainer."

“I have yet to meet anyone that actually wants or thinks a landfill should be located next to a school district," said Kardash. "Our school has really worked and concentrated on things that we can control in running our school, but through the permit process, we are an identified stakeholder, which means this is a time when we should truly spend our time to voice our thoughts. So as part of that process, we have written a letter to make our thoughts clear and to remove any doubt.”

The letter says renewing Dunn's permit "would allow for the continuation of landfill operations including the property nearest to the school in the coming years."

Previously there had been concerns stemming from a 2019 Times Union report that the landfill operators were paying at least $125,000 annually to the city school district. Kardash says any monetary connection between the district and the landfill has been severed.

“They've made multiple donations to the sports program and to the two other programs," Kardash said. "I think they matched all other donations in the year that we didn't have an athletic budget. And that was through the Alumni Association. So we now have a budget for our sports programs. So that's not in effect at this time.”

Earlier this month the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition sent Kardash and Rensselaer City School Board members a letter urging them to join the call for the landfill's closure. Coalition Treasurer Bob Welton says at least one environmental justice hearing is expected before the DEC takes action on Dunn's permit renewal application.

"And that hearing is really a key to the rest of the process," said Welton. "So that's the time when the public who has opposition to the landfill needs to step forward, whether it's going to be in-person or emails or Zoom, however, it's going to be determined, and be part of that process because that will affect how the whole process is looked at by the Department of Environmental Conservation in order to officially say that the permit is approved, so it's really a key to everything else."

DEC says it is reviewing the school’s letter and adds that the agency remains committed to working with school officials, local leaders, and residents to address concerns about the Dunn facility and engaging the public in the permit renewal process.

Dunn Landfill did not return a call for comment.

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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