Dump It on the Residents

Photo: Chet Hardin
Albany councilmen slam “hidden tax” in latest opposition to landfill expansion

Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) spoke out Tuesday against what he calls a hidden tax on Albany residents as part of the impending expansion of the Rapp Road landfill in the Pine Bush Preserve.

As part of the Rapp Road expansion permit, the Department of Environmental Conservation requires a $10 per-ton fee to be set aside for habitat restoration for the Pine Bush. Rather than charging this fee to haulers, the city plans to use 30-year bonds to pay for the fees, which, according to Calsolaro, will total between $15 and $18 million.

“Any Common Council member that votes for the bonding, I will send a letter to every one of their constituents—paid for out of my pocket—to let them know that their Common Council member approved a hidden tax on city of Albany residents,” Calsolaro said at a press conference Tuesday alongside fellow councilman and mayoral candidate Corey Ellis (Ward 3).

“By bonding, the city is now saying that every one of those $10 fees is going to be paid by the city taxpayers in Albany, because it’s a city bond,” Calsolaro said. “It’s not going to be charged to Allied Waste, a multi-billion dollar, multinational company that’s dumping their garbage in Albany. It’s not going to be paid by any other of the municipalities who are dumping their garbage in Albany. It’s going to be paid by the Albany city residents, who only produce between 8 and 10 percent of the waste that goes into the landfill.”

“We will have to pay that money back someday,” Ellis said, “with interest, for at least 25 years. The taxpayers do not deserve that.”

Calsolaro also expressed concerns that the 30-year bonding may be illegal.

“I could not find any language in the local finance laws that allows 30-year bonds for landfills,” he said, “so I think this may be in violation of the local finance law.”

It is estimated the expansion will extend the life of the landfill for another seven years, leaving city residents burdened by the bonds for 23 years after the landfill’s anticipated closing.

This announcement comes after weeks of public protests and public figures speaking out against the expansion of the dump. Activist group Save the Pine Bush has held multiple protests outside the Department of Environmental Conservation building and Albany City Hall, Ellis has called for a comprehensive audit for the landfill, and many other politicians have voiced their concerns about the environmental impacts of expanding the landfill into the Pine Bush Preserve.

“The city has derived income from the landfill, income that paid for city expenses. But it was done in a shortsighted manner,” wrote mayoral candidate Shawn Morris in her blog, shawnmorris.metroland.net. “So now, instead of planning for the next level of waste management, we are faced with the current no-win situation, for which the Mayor is responsible: choosing between financial solvency or expanding a landfill in an environmentally fragile area.”

Grace Nichols of Save the Pine Bush expressed concern that the costly habitat restoration may not even be effective in offsetting damage done to the Pine Bush.

“I am concerned that the plan to transport ‘Pine Bush sand’ from as far away as Queensbury and place it on top of a plastic cap and a clay layer on top of a landfill, is just not something whose success we can predict,” she wrote in a statement based on comments sent to DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. “Two feet of sand cannot support stable tree life.”

Instead, Nichols feels that the $15 to 18 million in costs for the habitat restoration should be spent buying land in the Pine Bush for preservation.

Calsolaro and Ellis both said that they plan to oppose the bonding to pay for the $10 per-ton fee, and with his threat to send letters to constituents, Calsolaro is encouraging other council members to do the same. Instead, he suggests that the fee be imposed on haulers, which Calsolaro said is what the DEC intended.

“The city will pay its $10 for the 8 percent that we bring in,” he said, “but we don’t want to pay the fee for the other 92 percent.”

Calsolaro has asked the DEC to investigate the city’s plan, and is requesting that it amend the permit to require “full-cost accounting” of landfill management to determine the true cost of the landfill to the city.

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