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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 6, 2010

Leaving local towns in the lurch
Albany’s vote against bond may halt landfill expansion

By Anne Hayden

ALBANY COUNTY — The Albany Common Council voted against a $1.35 million bond to fund the expansion of the Rapp Road landfill on Monday. It was the second time the council voted down the bond.

The first phase of the fifth expansion of the landfill is already underway, and is to extend the life of the landfill for another two years. If the $1.35 million bond is not approved, however, the expansion will be at a standstill, and the landfill will be at full capacity in two years, rather than the seven-year life the full expansion is to provide.

The Hilltowns and New Scotland are among the 14 municipalities that use the cities landfill, located in the pine bush.

Other bonds, for a total of roughly $10 million, were not put up for a vote after the first bond was voted down, according to Kathy Sheehan, the city’s treasurer. By not passing the bonds, said Sheehan, the city may be forced to take money from its general operating budget, since the expansion has already begun, and costs have already been incurred.

Patrick Jordan, an assistant to Albany’s corporation counsel, said that the common council will vote again in two weeks, and, if the bond is still not approved, it is possible that the landfill will be forced to close in two years, and the municipalities in the solid waste management consortium will have to find alternative places to dump their garbage.

Members of the consortium include New Scotland, Altamont, Berne, Westerlo, Voorheesville, Rensselaerville, and Knox. Guilderland pulled out of the consortium last year and began taking its waste to the Colonie landfill, because it does not support the expansion of the Rapp Road landfill, since it encroaches on the environmentally sensitive Pine Bush Preserve.

Part of the stipulation made by the state’s Department of Environmental conservation, when it approved the expansion, was that the city restore a certain amount of the existing landfill to pitch pine scrub barrens. The restoration plan would cost the city $18 million. Some members of the common council suggested charging an extra $10 fee per ton of waste brought to the landfill, to remove the burden from Albany’s taxpayers.

Tom Dolin, the supervisor of New Scotland, said the town has an annual budget of $104,000 designated for hauling garbage to the Albany landfill. If there were a $10-per-ton fee added, it would cost New Scotland an extra $20,000 annually. Dolan said he had researched the costs of switching to the Colonie landfill after Guilderland started taking its garbage there, but found then it wasn’t a cost-effective solution.

“The only opportunity for revenue from the landfill is to charge for the garbage dumped there,” Sheehan said. Right now, the landfill is “cash flow positive,” said Sheehan, meaning it brings in more money than it costs to operate. However, a bond would be paid off over a 10-to-20-year period, and the life of the landfill, at most, is another seven years.

“You have to consider the closing and operating costs once the life of the landfill expires,” Sheehan said.

Jordan said he did not think any extra fee would be levied, because it would result in a loss of business for the landfill. For example, he said, if the city currently charges $47 per ton, and Colonie charges a similar fee, raising Albany’s fee to $57 would cause municipalities to look elsewhere.

The rehabilitation of parts of the Pine Bush Preserve is required, even if the full expansion does not go through, Jordan said. Sheehan said the city could go back to the DEC and say it is unable to pay for the expansion construction, and the restoration, but the DEC could say the city was in violation of the terms of its permit, and shut down the landfill.

Between now and the next vote in two weeks, the city may present a resolution for alternative plans for the future. According to Sheehan, some of the council members who voted against the bond were hesitant because they did not feel that the city had committed to a waste-management plan for after the landfill closes — whether in two years, or seven years.

The DEC this week released a draft of a new solid-waste management plan, which focuses on reducing waste rather than finding alternative places for waste to go. The plan’s goal is to reduce waste by 15 percent every two years, which would result in a decreased reliance on landfills, like the one on Rapp Road.

Jordan said he hopes the bond will pass in two weeks. If it doesn’t, and the city of Albany were forced to dip into its general fund, it would have a direct impact on the taxpayers in the city, Jordan said, and could result in the loss of jobs.

“The decision to expand has already been made,” said Sheehan. “To stop it would be worse financially than never starting it at all.”

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