Thursday night's community meeting on the Dunn landfill in the city of Rensselaer took an unexpected turn.
The public meeting at the Rensselaer Ambulance Garage featured a presentation by landfill critic David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University at Albany.
Carpenter toured the vicinity of the Dunn site in May, telling WAMC he wasn't happy with what he experienced: noise, dust, air pollution and stench. "This is a huge landfill. It abuts the Rensselaer School, everything from kindergarten through the high school. It's a huge pit, it used to be a gravel pit, it opened up as a landfill four years ago, it takes construction and demolition waste, not municipal garbage. And I first thought that should be less of a problem, it shouldn't stink as badly as garbage does. But in fact the neighbors complain bitterly about the smell. It's a rotten egg smell."
Carpenter says wet wallboard releases sulfur compounds that cause odor. A secondary issue involves the hundred or so trucks a day spewing diesel exhaust as they rumble through residential areas to access the dump.
The Times Union first reported that operators of the landfill are paying at least $125,000 annually to the city school district, whose high school campus is next door. Former EPA regional administrator Judith Enck likens the deal, in which the school district agreed to support the landfill company, to "hush money."
At Thursday's meeting, Rensselaer Central School District Superintendent Joseph Kardash was in the audience. "There was a question as to why the school was visiting the landfill earlier this week. No one knew the answer so someone said 'let's ask the school superintendent who is here.' So, Superintendent Kardash stepped up, answered the question, and then a number of people raised concerns about this donation agreement he signed with the landfill company."
Enck read Kardash the section of the Donation Agreement she calls a gag order. He responded. "We can do better. I apologize. When I looked at that, I didn't see that that's the role of the school district. When I'm looking at it through the eyes, through the lens of the advocates that are here, that role, parents, OK, I can learn, I can get better and I promise to do so and I hope that's what we can teach our kids. That whole section needs to be deleted, and that's the intent. [applause]"
Enck says even after those statements, activists still believe the dump needs to be closed permanently. "This dump takes construction and demolition debris from six states, its been operating for four years, and they can't get their act together."
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation continues to monitor the landfill, which has been fined more than $360,000 in penalties for various violations.
The landfill did not make anyone available for comment.