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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 30, 2011

Study says
Nine counties should spend $200M on waste consortium to recycle 65%, up from 16%

By Anne Hayden

ALBANY COUNTY — A study released by the county on Monday found that if nine counties in the region combined waste management services, the recycling rate could increase nearly four-fold, saving money and landfill space.

In order to achieve that goal, the study, which was completed by Barton and Loguidice, LLC and Gerhardt, LLC, and funded by the state’s department of State Local Government Efficiency grant program, recommends forming a Regional Solid Waste Authority.

Over a million people in the study area generate over 2 million tons of waste annually, with about three-quarters taken to public facilities, the report said.

Two local landfills are going to reach capacity within the next 20 years; the city of Albany’s Rapp Road landfill, and the town of Colonie landfill. Berne, Knox, Westerlo, New Scotland, Voorheesville, and Altamont are members of a Solid Waste Management Partnership, which brings all of its waste to the Rapp Road landfill. The Rapp Road facility is expected to reach capacity within a decade.

Guilderland pulled out of the SWMP in 2009, and currently brings its waste to the landfill in Colonie, which is expected to be functional for 14 to 16 years.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is quoted in the report as stating that it will more strictly enforce its requirements, pushing smaller communities to spend more to upgrade.

The Regional Solid Waste Management Authority would unite nine counties — Albany, Columbia, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, and Washington — in a comprehensive system.

“We’re going through an informational process right now to try to get the voluntary support of the counties and municipalities,” said County Executive Michael Breslin on Tuesday.

The study outlines multiple benefits for communities under a solid waste management authority, including a potential savings of up to $15 million per year; an increase in recycling; streamlining local government; and protection against environmental liability.

The study also lists potential concerns listed in the study, including fear of an incinerator, opposition to a new waste management facility in any of the communities, and the appearance of a bailout for the city of Albany landfill.

In 2009, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation approved an expansion of the Rapp Road landfill that cost over $40 million. Once the landfill reaches capacity, the city will still owe a significant amount of money on the bond it took out to cover the cost of the project.

Breslin said he wanted to assure residents of other counties that, if the SWMA is formed, it will not absorb the debt incurred by the city to pay for the landfill, a concern that was raised when the expansion was approved around the same time the county submitted the application for the grant to study the SWMA.

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, said at the time, “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 the city of Albany can help pay for it.”

Not so, according to Breslin. In order to create the authority, the state legislature would have to enact legislation, as it has for three other areas in New York. The Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority was established in 1998, when both counties were lacking permitted disposal space.

State law was enacted to create the Oneida-Herkimer authority; the legislation also established a board of directors. The goal of the organization was to manage all waste within the two counties, and to set up an integrated system that would establish disposal for solid waste, recyclables, green compost, and hazardous waste.

According to William Rabbia, the executive director of the Oneida-Herkimer authority, the goal has been achieved. The organization has established a regional landfill, with a 60-year life; a 200-ton per day recycling center; a green waste compost center; a hazardous waste facility; and three solid waste transfer stations. In addition, the authority manages some curbside collection and has a specialized staff to education citizens on the benefits of recycling.

By selling recyclables and charging tipping fees for solid waste disposal, the organization has become completely self-sufficient, according to Rabbia.

“We haven’t had to ask for any money,” he said. “There’s been no strain on the county budgets.”

Breslin hopes to use the Oneida-Herkimer authority as a model for Albany County. The study gives options for which types of technology could be used by the SWMA — solid waste landfill, waste-to-energy facility, and solid waste composting.

“There is nothing that we are absolutely committed to right now,” said Breslin, but he indicated that one of the highest priorities would be placing strategically located composting facilities.

“That allows everyone to be a winner, because there is less waste going into the ground,” Breslin said. Because the counties and municipalities differ in terms of level of development, including urban, suburban, and rural areas, Breslin said different communities might even have the option for different methods of composting and recycling.

Statistics gathered from the nine counties during the study showed the average rate of recycling to be roughly 16 percent; based on the amount of organic waste generated annually, the study suggested a rate of 65 percent could be reached.

“In the next several years, we hope to get the authority formed and get an education program in place,” said Breslin.

The very next step is to apply for a grant for funding. The total cost of developing the different facilities could be upwards of $200 million, according to the study. Potential funding sources include a state grant, “seed money” from counties and municipalities, an authority bond to purchase existing facilities from participating counties, or a combination of the three.

“Sure, it will cost us money, and sure, it will be an investment, but it will be a less significant investment than if we all tried to handle waste management individually,” Breslin concluded. He said he expects feedback from all nine counties within the next few weeks.

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