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Capital Region Landfills Under Scrutiny

Lucas Willard
The Colonie Landfill as seen from the Town of Waterford

Capital Region communities are seeking action from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on two local landfills.

In April, the Rensselaer County legislature voted unanimously to urge the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to review operations at the Waste Connections-owned landfill in the city of Rensselaer.

The landfill used for demolition debris is located at the old Dunn Mine. It was first permitted to operate in 1998.

The bill adopted by the county legislature says an average of 78 trucks per day visit the site. In addition to permitted construction debris, household waste, which is not allowed at the site, has been observed inside and around the dump. The bill also notes DEC’s own confirmation that the facility has accepted household waste from the town of Colonie.

County legislature chair Michael Stammel said neighbors are concerned.

“The residents weren’t fully understanding that this application to put this dump in place was what it was going to be or was what it turned out to be at the time,” said Stammel.

The county has asked for DEC to enforce the terms of the permit, address violations, require regular air monitoring, and to ensure waste trucks entering the facility are in compliance. 

DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said the department is “actively investigating” community complaints about the site.

“We’re continuing to aggressively monitor this facility to ensure public health and the environment are protected,” said Ringewald. “ As part of DEC’s rigorous oversight, Environmental Conservation police officers and staff are conducting unannounced inspections of all operations at the facility including spot-checks of vehicles entering the landfill to ensure full compliance will all state rules and regulations.”

Ringewald added DEC is prepared to use its “full enforcement authority for any violations observed.”

This week, the Times Union reported that the local chapter of the Sierra Club was getting involved in the landfill debate. The Sierra Club told WAMC Friday that the group is calling for a legal review of the DEC’s 2012 permitting of operations at the site.

It’s not the only controversy surrounding a Capital Region landfill.

Two Saratoga County towns have filed legal actions against the DEC for the recent approval of a plan to expand and extend operations at the Colonie landfill in neighboring Albany County.

The towns of Halfmoon and Waterford recently filed lawsuits against DEC over its recent approval of permits to keep the 200-acre landfill open.

Halfmoon town supervisor Kevin Tollisen:

“We are working together as one team. We’re actually holding a meeting next week to discuss strategies and things like that to move forward,” said Tollisen.

An expansion would increase the height of the dump by 37 feet, decreased from a proposed increase of 87 feet. A buffer between the landfill and the Mohawk River was extended from 100 to 500 yards in the permitting process.

But the changes to the site did not satisfy nearby town leaders. Halfmoon and Waterford partnered with environmental group Riverkeeper to take samples from the river near the site.

Concentrations of PFOA, a pervasive toxic chemical found in several upstate communities, were discovered at up to 68.3 parts per trillion at storm drains between the landfill and river. That's below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's guidance level of 70 parts per trillion.

Tollisen said a reason for filing suit was a denied request for an ajudicatory hearing on DEC’s review process. He says the town deserves its day in court.

“You know, there’s a lot of technical arguments of why this shouldn’t be. And if this was a new application for a landfill near a river, it wouldn’t even be considered because the regulations say that you can’t do that any longer,” said Tollisen.

DEC would not comment on the litigation.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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