The Rensselaer Common Council last night voted to approve a resolution urging New York State to revoke the operating permit for a construction and demolition debris landfill that has drawn the ire of neighbors for years.
Complaints from neighbors about odors, rumbling truck traffic, dust, and other impacts on quality of life began soon after the SA Dunn Landfill began operating in the summer of 2015.
Six years later, neighbors and members of a group called the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition rallied outside city hall.
REC Chairman Dave Ellis spoke as supporters held up posters condemning the dump.
“We’ve been suffering for too long, we’ve come before this same council with little results, and now is time for the council to stop being political and to take action for the good of our community,” said Ellis.
The landfill towers beside the playing fields at the Rensselaer City School District. Former city high school athlete Andrew Kretzchmar was one of several locals who brought their complaints to the common council Wednesday.
“The comments were always made by the other schools. Why does it smell so bad? Well because there’s a dump 200 feet away from the school. That’s why it smells so bad. It was never enjoyable. It was never a change I desired from my place of learning. But you now have the opportunity to make a change, to fix it, to fix the mistake that was made. You have the opportunity, which you’ve had for a long time, to petition the state government, DEC, Governor Cuomo, to revoke this permit. It’s about time,” said Kretzchmar.
The state operating permit for the dump, operated by Texas company Waste Connections, expires in July 2022.
In addition to the complaints of the rotten-egg-like odor attributed to hydrogen sulfide emissions, diesel exhaust from idling trucks, and trash and dust blowing into a neighboring cemetery, advocates conducted their own testing of leachate and groundwater from the site, with results showing the presence of PFAS chemicals.
The landfill operators have entered agreements with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to address the concerns.
DEC has required inspections, the construction of gas collection and treatment equipment, a full-time onsite environmental monitor, the establishment of protocols and a hotline to investigate complaints, and the construction of a proposed soil berm to reduce visibility from the school.
Pamphlets from the landfill operator distributed days before Wednesday’s meeting touted the company’s contributions to the local economy and an annual $125,000 payment to the city school district.
But the dump has been condemned not only by city residents, but also the municipal governments of neighboring East Greenbush and Rensselaer County.
The chair of the Renssealer County legislature and Republican mayor now up for re-election, Mike Stammel, worked with the Rensselaer Environmental Coalition to develop legislation to pressure the state to revoke the operating permit.
But it was different version of the measure, that Stammel characterized as a draft version, that was up for consideration and ultimately approved by the Democrat-led council Wednesday night.
Stammel, who does not have a vote on the council, spoke after the measure was approved.
“I prefer, obviously, that they would have considered my resolution – not being biased – but it had a lot more pertinent information that we could have used when we sent a resolution from the city to the DEC in defense of closing it down, and our argument to close it down,” said Stammel.
Council member Bryan Leahey, who sponsored the resolution voted on Wednesday, said he wants to add to the approved version with input from the mayor’s proposal.
“And if we can’t come to an agreement we ride this until. But hopefully we come to agreements, because I have no problem working with him. And there are parts of his I like but there's parts that I don’t like,” said Leahey.
Leahey dismissed the criticism that the move to exclude the mayor’s proposal was political, calling it a “timing thing.” Leahey wants to potentially approve a revised resolution at the next common council meeting on July 7th.
That was also the position of the Common Council President John DeFrancesco.
“We’ll take what he has. What we did was it was Sunday night at 7:30 when his resolution was handed to us. Monday is our council workshop. We didn’t have any time to research it or do anything so now we have three weeks to look at what’s in there,” said DeFrancesco.
The mayor and council president, of opposing political parties, have bristled over the last year-and-a-half, including over Stammel’s dual position with the county legislature. Stammel said he would serve as only mayor going forward if re-elected.
Stammel says his invitations to meet with DeFrancesco outside of meetings have been refused.
“This council president has not met with me the whole time I’ve been in office, even though I’ve asked him.”
WAMC asked DeFrancesco if he would meet with Stammel.
“If it’s necessary, yes. I mean, it’s all on the table so it’s not a problem. I see the mayor in many meetings so if there’s any questions or concerns, you know, we talk.”