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Norlite And Cohoes Elected Leaders Trade Letters Over Plant's Environmental Record

The Norlite facility in Cohoes, NY.
Jackie Orchard
The Norlite facility in Cohoes, NY.

The mayor of Cohoes, New York is taking issue with a recent letter to the editor by the head of Norlite, which runs an aggregate mill plant and kiln in the Albany County city. The letter published in the Times Union aimed to counter activists’ complaints about environmental concerns stemming from the site. The company says shuttering the facility would put 70 people out of work. The letter continues by saying Norlite has completed a voluntary $30 million investment in its environmental technology to eliminate wastewater discharges and reduce emissions. Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler and state Assemblyman John McDonald, a former Cohoes mayor and fellow Democrat, responded with their own letter to the company, rebutting Norlite’s claims. WAMC’s Jim Levulis spoke with Mayor Keeler Tuesday afternoon.

Keeler: Well I was specifically taken aback by a recent letter to the editor at the Times Union from the CEO of Norlite USA where he claimed that Norlite is a win-win-win for the environment. And in fact, Norlite is a serial violator of the various state and federal regulations that guide the industry. I would say that every couple of weeks my office receives complaints regarding noise coming out of the facility, the odors emanating from the facility. But my three major concerns have to do with number one, the fugitive dust from the shale piles that blows from their campus onto the adjoining properties covering you know, houses and cars and bicycles with a thin film of whatever it is. And speaking of dust, the baghouse dust that is filtered from the smokestacks at Norlite are simply dumped, or have been dumped by employees onto muck piles on the grounds there. So again, just leaving that on the grounds is an environmental issue with the ground, the water, the arrogant. And then lastly, they are allowed to discharge about 50 pounds of mercury annually into the air over the city of Cohoes and nearby village of Green Island, city of Troy, city of Watervliet. I don't see how any of these things are wins for the environment and I said so in a joint letter with Assemblyman John McDonald that we sent to the CEO of Norlite USA earlier this week.

Levulis: And I see on that letter as well, we'll just note that you CC’d the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. Now going off of that letter, will the city of Cohoes advocate for the denial of the permits Norlite needs to continue to operate?

Keeler: We've had discussions regarding that. I mean, where we are right now is we're trying to get Norlite to be a better corporate neighbor. And that means covering those shale piles and they can do that today. And then going forward in the days ahead, in the months ahead is to convert the fuel source from hazardous materials back over to natural gas to fuel their shale operations.

Levulis: Has the city taken into consideration or looked at what the tax and/or economic impact would be on the city if Norlite were to cease operations?

Keeler: I would say it would be insignificant relative to the better environment we would have in terms of improved health quality of life.

Levulis: Is there an estimated dollar figure though?

Keeler: No. I mean, I could look up and see what they pay in property taxes, but it's not a significant amount as you might imagine.

Levulis: Now Mayor, you've been in office since early 2020. Has there been a line of communication between your office and Norlite during that time?

Keeler: Yeah, at a local level. I mean, we communicate with the management on the grounds over it Norlite, you know, every few months about different issues of mutual concern. They had a fire there not too long ago, had an opportunity to tour the facility. And then we've had a couple of virtual meetings with the CEO of Norlite USA.

Levulis: And then so that leads me to my next question. And you mentioned obviously the letter to the editor from the parent company of Norlite. And then obviously, your letter here and our conversation here. Why are the company and local officials kind of communicating to the media?

Keeler: Well, I mean, generally we've communicated in-person or virtually, but I was just I was really taken aback by the recent letter to the editor, from the CEO. So as that went through the media, the response would have to be not just to him via the email letter, but to clue the media in so that at least we had the opportunity to respond to his letter saying that Norlite it was a triple win for the environment, which clearly it's not.

Levulis: And I know you just sent the letter to the parent company there. Have you heard any response yet?

Keeler: No.

After the interview, the mayor’s office provided documents showing Norlite Corporation paid more than $125,000 in city, county, school and water and sewer taxes in the 2020-21 fiscal year. In a statement to WAMC, Norlite says it appreciates Mayor Keeler’s and Assemblymember McDonald’s perspective, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss the steps Norlite has taken, and continues to take, to address their concerns. The company says it shares their interest in ensuring the facility is protective of the community.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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