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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 25, 2009

Environmentalists protest as DEC decision on expanding Rapp Road landfill nears

By Anne Hayden

With a decision on the fifth Rapp Road landfill expansion imminent, environmentalists are worried about harm to the Pine Bush Preserve, despite the proposal of an extensive habitat restoration project.

The landfill, which after the fourth expansion was supposed to have space until 2015, will be filled within the year. Opened in 1981, it serves the 13 municipalities — including Guilderland, New Scotland, Altamont, Berne, Westerlo, Voorheesville, Rensselaerville, and Knox — that make up the Capital Region Solid Waste Management Partners; the dump also accepts garbage from private haulers. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which must approve the project if it is to move forward, has claimed that each expansion, since the first one, would be the last.

The City of Albany realizes a profit from the operation of the dump. Albany has explored moving its landfill to Coeymans but has faced community opposition and possible wetlands on the site.

This expansion will involve an overfill of 23 acres on the existing landfill, and an extra 15 acres, seven within the existing landfill area, and eight on undeveloped Albany City owned land to the northeast. Current landfill structures and accessory buildings will be moved directly east of the landfill entrance on Rapp Road.

The landfill runs alongside the Pine Bush Preserve, and environmentalists are concerned about the potential impacts the expansion might have on the species living in the habitat. As part of the expansion, the plan has budgeted for a $12 million habitat restoration plan, which it says allows for the restoration and enhancement of over 250 acres of land.

A section of the Final Environmental Impact Study, composed by Clough Harbor and Associates, details the ways in which the restoration will be phased in. The FEIS states, “It is envisioned that the landfill can be blended into the Albany Pine Bush Preserve landscape, providing critical habitat for rare ecological communities and threatened and endangered species.”

The plan prescribes the restoration of natural streams and wetlands, native plants and animal communities, and the linkage of currently fragmented Pine Push land.

Members of Save the Pine Bush, an advocacy group opposed to the expansion, and Ward Stone, the state’s wildlife pathologist, assert that some parts of the restoration plan will harm the environmentally sensitive area. Save the Pine Bush led a protest Monday in front of the DEC’s Albany headquarters.

Some of the herbicides and insecticides approved for use during the restoration could cause damage to the endangered species living in the preserve, according to Stone. One of the herbicides listed in the documentation is Glyphosate, which Stone said is dangerous to insects, like the Karner blue butterfly, on the federal list of endangered species, and could also hurt amphibians living in the ponds in the Pine Bush.

“There is some evidence that spraying plants with these herbicides can damage eggs laid on the plants, and can also have a harmful effect on the plants themselves, making them less habitable to butterflies and moths,” Stone said.

Stone, who recently detailed the effects of the use of a rodenticide called Brodifacoum in the landfill, documenting its impact on the deaths of coyotes, owls, and hawks near the preserve, said he thinks the most natural and effective restoration process is prescribed fire. After the public outcry about the landfill’s use of Brodifacoum, the city of Albany agreed to suspend its use.

Christopher Hawver, executive director of the Pine Bush Commission, called the expansion plan “the lesser of all the evils.” Before the current plan was proposed, there were three others that suggested expanding directly into the Pine Bush, he said.

“This new plan is better, but we still don’t approve of it,” said Hawver.

According to Hawver, he has only gone over the restoration plan cursorily, and the commission will sit down with the DEC, and its scientists, to go over it in detail.

“We want to make sure that we are in on the restoration project from the get-go,” Hawver said. “We don’t want to kill things we’re trying to preserve.”

Yet Stone said that’s exactly what will happen if the landfill expansion is approved.

 “The DEC keeps saying the expansion is only in the study area, and not in the actual preserve, but it is in the Pine Bush Preserve,” Stone said.

Some of the acreage the plan says will be restored is really just capped landfill, according to Stone. That land will never be the same, he said. There are no big stretches of Pine Bush land left, only small spots here and there, said Stone.

“They should just stop dumping now,” Stone said. “If they OK this expansion, it will really be a shame.”

Hawver said he had faith in the DEC, and believes that the organization has worked hard to maximize the benefits to the preserve, and minimize the negative aspects, as this expansion goes forward.

“I think this really will be the last expansion. That’s my hope, because there is really nowhere else to go,” said Hawver.

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