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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 7, 2006

Stop the stench

Illustration by Forrest Byrd

Something is rotten in the town of Guilderland.

The stench of garbage has been in the air, on and off, for years. Residents in the leafy neighborhoods of McKownville have had enough.

Donald Csaposs, development director for Guilderland, is a McKownville resident. He told us this week that he never knows if it will be "safe" to use his small but pleasant backyard.

"I never know if it’s going to stink out there," he says.

David Bosworth, a town councilman as well as a McKownville resident, told our reporter that, when cold weather hits McKownville as it has this week, a fog of noxious gases rolls across the community from the landfill.

Bosworth also said some residents are considering a move from a neighborhood they love because they can’t stand the smells any longer.

Two-and-a-half years ago, we wrote about a resident of Graylon Place who described the stench as "god awful" and said he was concerned it would decrease his property’s value.

The smells are coming from the Rapp Road landfill, which is a money-maker for the city of Albany. Eleven Albany County municipalities, known as the Solid Waste Planning Unit, use the landfill; each pays tipping fees to the city, which last year totaled about $10.8 million, according to Albany Comptroller Thomas Nitido.

He said 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 Albany had to cover that portion of the budget, were it to lose the income from the landfill, Nitido told us earlier.

Albany shouldn’t be using the money from member municipalities to balance the city budget. It should use the money to run the landfill properly.

Two-and-a-half years ago, when the Graylon Place resident complained about the "god awful" stench, the corporation counsel for the city of Albany told us the stench was temporary as pipes were being laid to eliminate methane gas that comes from decomposing waste. If that gas were allowed into the air, it could be harmful to the public, he said.

How harmful"

We’ve consulted with experts this week. All agree that, while methane in open spaces isn’t a public-health issue, methane is harmful for the environment. It’s a greenhouse gas that, once released into the earth’s atmosphere, allows incoming sunlight to pass through but absorbs heat radiated back from the earth’s surface. This causes global warming that scientists around the world now recognize as destructive.

Donald Reeb says the McKownville Neighborhood Association which he heads has been stonewalled for years by the city of Albany and the landfill management, and is tired of a one-sided conversation. He also says the state’s Department of Health hasn’t been responsive about the effects on residents’ health of methane and whatever is causing the bad smells. The association is now about to hire an expert itself to run tests, Reeb said.

Citizens deserve answers.

But beyond that, a solution is needed. Csaposs cites Seneca Meadows, the largest landfill operation in upstate New York, which he has visited.

The 700-acre facility in the Finger Lakes region has two landfill gas-driven electric plants and two fully-enclosed flares. Landfill gas, a byproduct of the decomposition of organic materials, is collected with a network of wells and burned in the landfill gas-driven electric plants. Burning the landfill gas destroys non-methane organic compounds and provides low-cost renewable energy.

The facility’s state-of-the-art technology keeps smells down, Csaposs says, and it provides offices and a nearby farm with low-cost energy.

Closer to home, the town of Colonie hired a contractor to establish a methane-recovery facility on its landfill, which will generate funds.

The city of Albany should use some of the funds it gets from the 11 municipalities supporting the landfill to correct the problems and build a system that could, in the long run, generate funds.

Complaints from Guilderland residents apparently aren’t enough to spur action. Several years ago, the town enforced its zoning ordinance when residents near the Metro 20 Diner complained of smells from the restaurant. The business owner was required to install expensive filters. Surely a municipality — in this case, the city of Albany — should be held to the same standards as an individual business owner.

The town, however, has no jurisdiction because the Rapp Road facility is outside of its borders. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has already fined the city because of the smell.

We urge the other municipalities — including New Scotland, Berne, Knox, Westerlo, Rensselaerville, and Altamont — to let their voices be heard. After all, it is garbage from all of these places that is causing the stench McKownville residents have to endure.

We were distressed last summer when all but one of the member municipalities signed Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings’s letter of support for expansion of the landfill into pristine Pine Bush lands. Only Guilderland, which has land in the Pine Bush, took a strong stand against it.

Those plans to expand to the west were scrapped in favor of expanding to the east, even though the price for moving the facilities currently located there is estimated at $2 million.

Rebuilding facilities would be the perfect time to revamp the system, making it safe, odor-free, and cost effective.

Right now, excess gases — half methane and half organic gases including sulfur — are flared off at Rapp Road, according to Bill Bruce, commissioner of the Albany Department of General Services, and plans are in the works for building a gas-to-energy facility. We’ve been told before that the problem is solved. We’ll be watching, and sniffing the air, to see if it’s true.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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