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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 16, 2009

Regional solid-waste authority would have flow control

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — This spring, Albany County submitted an application for a grant to study the creation of a regional solid-waste management authority.

“We have to think about what we want waste management to look like in the Capital Region in four or five years,” said Mike Franchini, commissioner of Albany County’s Department of Public Works, at the time.

Since then, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has approved of the city of Albany’s plan to expand its landfill, used by all of the municipalities in the Solid Waste Management Partnership, into the Pine Bush.  The project is estimated to cost around $40 million.

Berne, Knox, New Scotland, Westerlo, Voorheesville, and Altamont are among the members of SWMP.  Guilderland is currently a member, but the town board voted unanimously recently to pull out in favor of using Colonie’s landfill.

In a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, Lynne Jackson, a volunteer with Save the Pine Bush, a citizens’ group that advocates for the ecologically rare pitch pine barrens where the dump is located, wrote: “The city of Albany administration intends to shift this large debt over to the proposed regional solid waste authority so that all of you citizens outside of the city of Albany can help pay for it.”

Ideally, that debt will be shouldered by the authority if it is created, said Albany Common Council member Michael O’Brien, but he expects that the authority will be solvent.  It would require the state legislature to enact legislation to create the authority, he said, as it has for three other areas in New York.

The “benefit of an authority is flow control,” he said, explaining that an authority has the ability to mandate that any garbage collected within the member municipalities be disposed of in the facility it manages, meaning that it can set a price that would make the operation financially sound without competition from private companies.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in a 2007 Supreme Court decision regarding United Haulers v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority: “Disposing of trash has been a traditional government activity for years, and laws that favor the government in such areas—but treat every private business, whether in-state or out-of-state, exactly the same—do not discriminate against interstate commerce for purposes of the Commerce Clause.”

He went on to write in the decision that favored the authority, “Here the flow control ordinances enable the Counties to pursue particular policies with respect to the handling and treatment of waste generated in the Counties, while allocating the costs of those policies on citizens and businesses according to the volume of waste they generate.”

Currently, the city of Albany realizes a profit from its dump since it accepts garbage from commercial haulers.  Asked what its interest would be in turning the landfill over to a multi-county authority, O’Brien answered, “The interest is, we’re running out of space.  We’ll never get another expansion.”  The city is approaching its fifth contentious expansion of the current site and another site it considered — in Coeymans — has been rejected because of residents’ objections and wetlands.

At the DEC’s request, the 13 member municipalities have been meeting on a monthly basis since December and, O’Brien said of the creation of an authority, “I think that’s going to be the ultimate recommendation of this planning unit.”

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