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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 22, 2006

Garbage to go — where"

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — Hilltown garbage needs a home.

The Rapp Road landfill, in the Pine Bush, where the city of Albany’s landfill is located, has been the towns’ receptacle since 1988. The four Hilltowns, the village of Altamont, and the towns of New Scotland and Guilderland all pay a tipping fee to the city in order to use the landfill in the Pine Bush. The city sparked controversy recently when it said that it would have to take back some of the land that it had dedicated to the Pine Bush Preserve so that it can extend the life of the landfill.

"We have an acre creep," said Lynne Jackson, a spokesperson for Save The Pine Bush, an advocacy group. When Albany’s mayor, Gerald Jennings, first made the proposal he said it would be 10 acres, then it became 12, and now it’s 12.6, she said.

"The people in town have fought hard for the preserve," said Guilderland councilman Paul Pastore at Tuesday’s town board meeting as he voted with the rest of the board against supporting the expansion.

Guilderland, which is the only municipality in the Enterprise coverage area that has land in the Pine Bush, is the only municipality that is taking a strong stance against the proposal.

"This is a stopgap solution," said Supervisor Ken Runion. The proposal is to take 12.6 acres of land from the Pine Bush Preserve and add it to the bordering landfill. The expansion will add another eight years of use to the landfill on top of the four remaining years it has left now, Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier told The Enterprise last week.

The Berne Town Board voted unanimously last week to support Jennings in the expansion with some reluctance from board members. The board discussed but could not come up with a better alternative.

"I support what the city is doing," Westerlo’s supervisor, Richard Rapp, told The Enterprise this week. Westerlo uses the landfill and Rapp estimated that the town spends between $115,000 and $120,000 a year in tipping fees.

The town of Rensselaerville, which also uses the landfill, estimated its cost at $48,000 to $50,000 a year for garbage disposal. Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg said that the board didn’t know enough about the issue to comment.

Assemblyman John McEneny told The Enterprise this week that all but one of the 12 member municipalities of the Solid Waste Planning Unit that use the Rapp Road landfill signed Jennings letter of support. Guilderland is the only municipality that did not.

Since plans for the city’s next proposed landfill, which is in Coeymans, has stalled because residents oppose it and wetlands were recently discovered in the area, it is unclear where the towns’ garbage will go.

"There’s no magic bullet," said Jackson. "Garbage is a multi-faceted issue."

She talked about a long-term approach, including re-using things like bottles, which would reduce the amount of garbage going into the landfill. "It seems to me, there’s a lot of stuff we could re-use," she said.

She mentioned food "composting on a municipal scale," similar to the lawn-clippings composting system that she applauded the city of Albany for already having; this would also reduce the volume of garbage going into the landfill.

"The alternative is to look for another regional landfill site," said Runion at Tuesday’s meeting, looking at the immediate problem.

"I have mixed feelings," said Alexander Gordon, a Knox resident and Albany County legislator. "It’s a difficult situation for the towns." Like Jackson, he offered some long term possibilities for reducing the size of landfills.

He said that the town of Colonie got a contractor to establish a methane recovery system at its landfill. He expects that the system will bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the town over time.

The acreage that the city of Albany is proposing to add to the landfill is in Karner East, which "the preserve commission says is an irreplaceable piece of the best," said Jackson. She stressed that this was some of the most pristine land in the preserve.

"Dedication is a legal act, like forever wild," said Christopher Hawver, executive director of the Pine Bush Preserve Commission. "It’s the Pine Bush’s version of forever wild."

— Jarrett Carroll provided information from the June 20 Guilderland Town Board Meeting.

McEneny kills bill

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY — The bill set to trade 13 acres of pristine Pine Bush land for 30 acres and a landfill won’t see its vote.

"I have come to the conclusion today," Assemblyman John McEneny told The Enterprise exclusively Wednesday night, "that we don’t need the bill."

McEneny surprised environmentalists when he sponsored a bill that would allow the city of Albany to take 12.6 acres from the Pine Bush Preserve and add it to the Rapp Road landfill, with the provision that 30 acres would be added elsewhere.

"I find it appalling," Lynne Jackson, a spokesperson for the watchdog group, Save the Pine Bush, told The Enterprise on Tuesday. "I’m sure that he’s under a lot of pressure," she added referring to McEneny, who has one of the best environmental voting records in the Assembly.

"This is a slippery slope that we don’t want to go down," said Jackson. No land has been removed from the preserve since 1991, when the city dedicated the land, she said.

"Now a template will be set up to undedicate land," Chris Hawver, executive director of the Albany Pine Bush Preservation Commission, told The Enterprise this week. The State Legislature created the inter-municipal agency to govern a preserve that protects the globally rare inland pine barren, home to the endangered Karner blue butterfly. It spans three municipalities — the towns of Colonie and Guilderland and the city of Albany.

Hawver and Jackson both shared concerns that the Guilderland Town Board discussed at its meeting on Tuesday.

"I don’t want to set a precedent," Councilwoman Patricia Slavick said, when casting her vote against supporting the city’s proposed landfill expansion. Guilderland was the only municipality, in the 12-member Solid Waste Planning Unit that uses the Rapp Road landfill, that did not sign Mayor Gerald Jennings’s letter of support for expansion. It is also the only municipality in the unit that borders the landfill and contains part of the Pine Bush preserve, aside from the city of Albany.

The revenue from the landfill, which the unit member municipalities pay a tipping fee to use, totaled approximately $10.8 million last year for the city, according to Albany Comptroller Thomas Nitido. He said that this makes up about 7.3 percent of the city’s $148 million operating budget.

City property taxes would go up 23 to 25 percent if the city had to cover that portion of the budget, were it to lose the income from the landfill, Nitido told The Enterprise on Wednesday.

"Are we becoming too dependent on landfill revenue"" asked McEneny.

Ron Canestrari co-sponsored McEneny’s bill in the Assembly and a similar bill was sponsored by Neil Breslin in the Senate.

Jennings had first requested a bill on Jan. 23, McEneny said, but didn’t follow up until June 1; the legislative session ends in June. Jennings did not return calls from The Enterprise this week.

McEneny said that he sponsored the bill because he was led to believe by lawyers, experts in the field, and the city that this bill was necessary in order to conduct a State Environmental Quality Review on the land.

McEneny found that this commonly-held belief is wrong. "Alienation and SEQR are independent of each other," he said.

Alienation is the term used for the authorization given by the state legislature to the municipality that releases municipal park land for other uses. The city of Albany needs the legislature to pass an alienation bill in order to undedicate its land from the Pine Bush for use as a landfill.

"From an environmental review perspective, SEQR compliance should be commenced as early as possible in the decision making process," states the New York State Parks Handbook on the Alienation and Conversion of Municipal Park Land. "State Parks suggests that a municipality should undertake this review prior to seeking alienation legislation."

SEQR requires that the undertaking entity — in this case, the city of Albany — consider alternatives to the project that it is studying, according to the handbook.

"There are other things out there," said Jackson. "I think we need to look at them." Hawver also said that he’d like to see the city consider other options and provide a public forum in which they can be discussed.

One of the down sides to passing the alienation bill before getting the environmental review is there would be a "bias in favor of that alternative," said McEneny.

"It may well be necessary," he said of expanding the landfill further into the Pine Bush. "Do the SEQR first and ask for alienation later."

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