Voters in Allegany County have given Casella Waste Services Inc. the green light to more than double the acreage and capacity for municipal solid waste at its Hyland Landfill.
Angelica town and village residents voted 347-252 Tuesday to approve a ballot proposition that dangled $78 million in future payments to those municipalities as a condition to adding 107 acres to the 78-acre landfill.
The project would raise Hyland’s permitted capacity from 465,000 tons of waste a year to 1 million tons and boost it to the fourth largest MSW landfill in the state, up from No. 8.
Casella is still “three to four years” away from obtaining all the necessary local and state permits to complete the expansion, said Larry Shilling, vice president of landfill and business development for the company.
But permits could be in place by 2025 when the state’s largest MSW landfill, Seneca Meadows in Waterloo, is required to close. Owners of that giant landfill have been trying to arrange a work-around of the closure mandate.
“There is some question as to how long Seneca Meadows is going to stay open,” Shilling said. “So the disposal capacity in New York State has a chance of dwindling and the opportunity may be there to take some of their waste.”
In addition to negotiating a new host agreement with Angelica, Casella must still win the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s approval of a supplemental environmental impact statement, among other requirements.
Hyland began operating in 1998 on a 39-acre site. After a 2004 referendum was passed, the facility won permits to expand to 78 acres in 2006.
Since 1998, the Town of Angelica has received more than $12 million in host community fee payments. Under the latest agreement, the town would receive an another $65 million spread out over at least 25 years. The Village of Angelica would also receive $13 million over the life of the expanded landfill.
Under the original host agreement, local voters had to give their approval for any expansions. The company was entitled to four tries to win the latest expansion.
Voters jumped the gun this week, in the view of Fred Sinclair of Alfred, a board member of Concerned Citizens of Allegany County (CCAC).
“They could have made a more informed decision about whether the impact over 25 years is worth the fist full of silver,” Sinclair said.
They could have waited to listen to their neighbors and to weight details about the landfill’s waste stream that would be provided in the environmental impact statement, he added.
“We know from peeks at quarterly reports that they’re taking on more medical waste and more sewage sludge from large urban areas,” Sinclair said. “The odors that go with those sewage sludges are like nothing you’ve ever smelled before.”
Shilling acknowledged the challenge of controlling landfill odors.
“Hyland is committed to increasing the amount of gas collection pipe placed in the landfill to collect and destroy the odorous gases,” he said in a statement posted online.
The landfill has a gas-to-energy facility that produces 1.6 megawatts of electricity, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Shilling said.
And to accommodate increased truck traffic, Hyland has agreed to pay for a third lane up Peacock Hill Road, extending from the intersection of I-86 to Herdman Road.
Casella has acknowledged that the expanded landfill will be visible from parts of the Village of Angelica, but claims it will be “barely noticeable.” Shilling said, “Most of the expansion area will be to the south, away from the village.”
In recent years, CCAC has criticized Casella for accepted “drill cuttings” from gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania. While independent scientists have said wastes imported from Marcellus Shale drilling operations in Pennsylvania are very likely to be radioactive, Shilling and Casella have long maintained that the drill cuttings Hyland has accepted are benign.
Besides, Shilling said, gas drilling in Pennsylvania has nearly come to a halt, so the question of drill cuttings is largely moot.
Still, CCAC urged voters to vote ‘No’ on the proposition Nov. 3. In a message posted on the Internet, Karen Ash of CCAC implored voters to reject the proposition, which read:
“In accordance with the terms of the Amended Host Community Agreement between Hyland Facility Associates and the Town of Angelica, dated December 27, 1999, as amended in February 14, 2005, shall the Hyland Project be expanded to include an additional 107 acres of cell area, which will trigger increased host fees to the town and produce approximately $65,000,000 of additional revenue to the Town and approximately $13,000,000 of revenue to the Village of Angelica over the life of the facility?”
In her message to potential voters, Ash asserted that “We don’t have to decided right now.”
She noted that the host agreement allows Casella four chances to see whether local residents approve or deny the proposed expansion. She also noted that none of the new financial benefits would begin flowing until Casella receives all required permits — years in the future.
“If we approve Proposition #1 we forfeit our negotiating power,” she wrote.
Ash’s internet post also warned that Hyland might soon obtain an exemption to allow it to accept “low-level” nuclear waste from decommissioned nuclear plants.
But Shilling said today that Casella would be willing to include a specific ban on all material from decommissioned nuclear plants. “I have no problem with putting that in the host agreement,” he said.
More than half of the state’s capacity for municipal solid waste is located in landfills in the Finger Lakes region. The three largest MSW landfills, Seneca Meadows, Ontario County and High Acres, are all located in the DEC’s Region 8. Allegany County, Hyland’s home in DEC Region 9, abuts DEC Region 8.
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].