The Schuyler County Legislature voted 7-1 last night for a resolution opposing a state permit for a proposed solid waste facility on Route 13 in Cayuta until:
— The state Department of Environmental Conservation conducts a “full, fair and exhaustive environmental review, including a traffic study.”
— The developer, Bob Mente, formally amends his DEC application to reflect the fact that trucks will not haul waste from the facility north to Seneca Meadows Landfill in Waterloo, as stated in his original application.
— The DEC reopens the public comment period concerning the proposed facility.
David Reed of Cayuta was the lone ‘no’ vote.
Mente, who runs Alternative Waste Services Inc. in Newfield, proposes to develop County Line MRF, a “materials recovery facility” that would handle up to 500 tons of waste a day. His permit application to the DEC says the facility will generate up to 185 truck trips per day. It shows most waste hauled from the facility going north through winery areas between Seneca and Cayuga lakes.
Mente said he has since changed plans and will send all waste south to landfills in Chemung and Steuben counties, but he hadn’t revised his DEC application as of late yesterday.
The DEC has said the project will have “no significant adverse impacts on the environment,” and the agency waived an environmental impact statement. In his Sept. 3, 2020 analysis, the DEC’s Guillermo Saar didn’t mention the destination of the waste, and dismissed impacts to transportation as “small.”
However, state Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats), in a recent letter to Saar, asked for a direct response addressing the “significant and legitimate local concerns involving the facility’s traffic safety….I look forward to hearing from you.”
The letter, sent after the Sept. 24 close of the DEC’s public comment period, was read into the record last night by Schuyler Legislator Phil Barnes.
Seneca Lake Guardian, a local environmental group, has also focused on the volume and direction of trucks hauling waste to and from the proposed facility.
In an Oct. 13 letter to the Schuyler Legislature, SLG urged passage of the resolution and encouraged the Legislature to adopt a moratorium on new “waste-related projects” in Schuyler County.
SLG president Joseph Campbell and vice president Yvonne Taylor said they chose not to attend last night’s legislative meeting because of possible exposure to COVID-19.
The moratorium issue was never mentioned at the meeting, but the resolution SLG had been supporting did pass with a significant amendment.
Legislators voted 7-1 to add the following paragraph to the latest resolution draft:
“Under state regulation, it is prohibited to construct or operate a facility or any phase of it without a DEC permit. As set out in a DEC notice of violation dated Oct. 5, 2020, the applicant has conducted clearing, grading, excavating and soil stockpiling activities and weekly site inspection reports dated between Aug. 27, 2019 and Sept. 17, 2020 indicate that construction activities continued despite the warning provided by the department.”
Legislator Michael Lausell (D-Hector) introduced the amendment along with a request to delete a paragraph contained in early drafts of the resolution concerning a building constructed on the site last year — possibly in violation of DEC regulations. The DEC has since determined that the building didn’t violate its rules. (Here is an early draft of the resolution before the Lausell amendment.)
Lausell said the amendment reflected “not just the quality of the application, but the attitude of the applicant toward the DEC.”
Reed also voted against the Lausell amendment before voting against the amended resolution. Mente said after the meeting that he didn’t oppose the resolution.
A spokesman for Mente, who works for Fagan Engineers Inc., told the board that Mente had drafted amendments to his DEC application but was waiting to see public comments on the project before submitting them.
In an unrelated matter, the legislators voted 5-3 to table a proposed resolution that called for decisions about reopening local businesses to be made by “each individual county rather than through the governor’s executive order.”
The proposed resolution, introduced by Barnes, said, in part:
“The Schuyler County Legislature believes its residents can continue maintaining low infection rates in the county through its own governance and oversight, working in conjunction with its local municipalities, without further encroachment on the constitutional rights of Schuyler County’s citizens by New York state under the guise of a state emergency.”
The resolution also noted that the state had maintained an infection rate below 1 percent “for over three straight weeks” and that the Southern Tier’s infection rate had been below 1 percent since May.
However, in the past week, New York’s positivity rate rose to 1.2 percent and Schuyler County reported a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases over the past weekend. At least 11 new cases boosted the county total to 72, the county reported.
Taylor of SLG said she had been exposed to two individuals who had tested positive. She said she and Campbell avoided the last night’s meeting because they might be contagious.
During last night’s meeting, a member of the public stood to criticize the county legislators for failing to wear masks during the proceedings. Only Lausell wore a mask throughout the meeting.
Legislators Lausell, Gary Gray, Carl Blowers, Mark Rondinaro and Van Harp voted to table the COVID-19 resolution. Legislators Barnes, Reed and James Howell voted not to table.
Peter is a three-time Pulitzer nominated reporter covering environmental issues through his first-of-its-kind digital publication The Water Front. He’s won an array of Associated Press, UPI, and Society of Professional Journalist awards. His reporting on environmental issues continues to be featured in prominent New York publications and is available on FingerLakes1.com through an exclusive content partnership. Have a question or lead? Send it to [email protected].