Environmental activists joined concerned citizens in the city of the Rensselaer this weekend to protest the dumping of waste in the city.
"The city of Rensselaer is facing two very serious environmental threats. And every level of government has failed the people. And that is why you being here today is so important," said former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, a regular WAMC Roundtable panelist, who was among the speakers on the banks of the Hudson Saturday.
The rally targeted the existing Dunn landfill, the largest construction and demolition debris landfill in New York state, which is near a school and a residential area, and an initiative known as the BioHiTech project. The 72,000-square foot facility off Riverside Avenue at the old BASF site would turn municipal waste into fuel.
"In the region there's been a slew of environmental victories when people just like you came together. There are people who came out today from Coeymans. They beat back a terrible proposal to burn solid waste at the cement kiln, and then passed a local law, a local clean air law, that will protect air quality in the whole region. They passed it on and showed up in Catskill where Wheelabrator incinerator company wanted to site a toxic ash landfill a half mile from the Hudson River. Thankfully, because of citizen activism, Wheelabrator went away in a matter of three months. Those citizens are here today and standing in solidarity for a clean environment and protecting public health. I wanna be very clear about what I am advocating. I am advocating the immediate closure of the Dunn landfill," said Enck.
Lou Sebesta lives on Partition Street, which leads to the landfill. He says trucks line up every weekday morning at 6:30. "They roar past schoolchildren waiting for the bus. They shake the windows, foundations, they're spewing diesel. None of the noise was studied by the DEC when it approved it. I think it's completely ridiculous for them to have said that they anticipated no significant impacts to the neighborhood, the people living in Rensselaer, and they didn't even think about the school, between I-90 and the dump, and they knew that. They knew that the school was there."
Again, Enck: "The Dunn Landfill is owned by a large Texas waste company called Waste Connections. They are paying the City of Rensselaer $800,000 a year to accept this environmental hazard. And let's face it. In a more affluent community, these environmental problems would never exist. It never would have been sited in a more affluent community and it would have been better regulated."
Waste Connections did not respond to a request for comment.
Enck and the activists also called for an environmental impact study to be conducted on the proposed BioHiTech facility.
David Carpenter is director of the University at Albany's Institute for Health and the Environment and has pushed for air testing: "We need to have that Environmental Impact Statement around this site. We need to have the landfill closed because it's very clear because many people, especially the schoolchildren, are impacted by the dust that comes off the landfill."
DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald says the agency issued permits for the Dunn Landfill based on science and data and will hold the facility accountable if any violations are found. "DEC will continue our strict oversight and scrutiny of the Dunn Landfill site, including our air and groundwater monitoring. We'll also continue to review this facility's compliance with all permit conditions, rules and regulations, to protect this community and the environment."
Rensselaer Mayor Richard Mooney confirms the DEC is working with the city, aggressively monitoring the landfill. The Democrat adds the BioHiTech facility was approved before he became mayor. "Some residents that live down by that facility have reached out to my office with concerns, so we're just asking, I'm just asking that the planning commission just take a step back, keep reviewing it, I also reached out to DEC and requested they do a thorough review of this project, just to make sure we're all safe and sound and on the same page."
At the gathering, Rensselaer County Legislature Chairman Mike Stammel, a Republican running for mayor against Mooney , announced he is proposing a law that would impose a one-year moratorium on any new solid waste permits within a mile of the Hudson River anywhere in the county, effectively halting the BioHiTech project. "We don't wanna be known especially here in the city of Rensselaer as a dump city because there's a dump at one end of the city and a dump they wanna put down the other end of the city."