By a 3-2 vote, the Seneca Falls Town Board last night shot down a draft 15-year host community agreement (HCA) between the town and the Seneca Meadows Inc. landfill that supporters said was worth more than $10 million a year.
Minutes later, by a 5-0 vote, the board passed a resolution asking the state to investigate high lung cancer rates in the census tracts surrounding the landfill.
The two votes, which drew cheers from the audience, were unexpected setbacks for Town Supervisor Mike Ferrara, who was part of the team that negotiated the draft HCA without input from the full board.
Ferrara had also attempted to block the lung cancer resolution from reaching the board’s agenda, asserting last week that a majority of the board would not support it. But when all four other board members voted for it last night, he fell in line and voted yes.
The board’s actions last night followed several impassioned speeches that urged the board not to approve the draft HCA or a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which states that the board intends to adopt the HCA if the landfill obtains a state permit to expand.
“Transparency throughout this (process) is incredibly important,” board member Kaitlyn Laskoski said before making a motion to table a resolution approving the MOU. “I’m not comfortable moving forward with this host agreement at this point in time.”
Dawn Dyson seconded, and Steve Churchill added the third vote, while Ferrara and Frank Sinicropi voted against tabling the HOU resolution. The 3-2 vote effectively killed the draft HCA.
Laskoski expressed alarm that Ferrara’s brother, David Ferrara, an attorney with Bond, Schoeneck & King, took part in the HCA negotiations, while town board member Churchill was excluded.
Jackson Puylara, who is running as a Democrat for a town board seat in the November election, agreed. “I think it’s absolutely crazy that not all town board members were included in that discussion,” he said.
Puylara said the draft HCA “does not have much teeth.” He noted that while the document says SMI will do everything it can to mitigate landfill odors, “it does not say what will happen if they do not.
“They can get 100 calls from the third party line every day, and as long they say they’re doing everything they could to make that better, they’re going to see no punishment.”
But Wendy Crane, who is running for the town board as a Republican, spoke in favor of the allowing the landfill to pay the town to continue operating.
“You’re gonna close a place and turn away money?” Crane said. “Where are we cutting? Are we cutting out the kids’ rec center? Are we cutting our kids’ future?
“I am raising three young children in this community who I love to death. So if I really felt they were in harm’s way we would no longer be here.”
Ferrara is running for reelection as town supervisor on the Conservative ballot line after he lost in the Republican primary on June 27 to Frank Schmitter, who will appear on the Republican and Democratic party ballot lines.
Meanwhile, Seneca Meadows is seeking a state permit to expand through its proposed Valley Infill project, which would raise the height of the landfill by about 70 feet. If the state Department of Environmental Conservation grants the permit, SMI could operate through 2040 at current dumping rates.
The DEC said it will require the landfill to complete an environmental impact statement as part of the permitting process. The agency is preparing to release a final scoping document that will define — and limit — the issues to be covered in the EIS.
When asked directly by WaterFront, DEC officials have declined to say whether they intend to require the EIS to include a lung cancer analysis. The town’s resolution calls on the agency to insist on it.
The state Department of Health identified a “lung cancer cluster” in Seneca County for the years 2011-2015. An analysis by WaterFront of public DOH data showed that census tracts surrounding the landfill had particularly high lung cancer incidence rates in 2011-2015 and 2013-2017, while other Seneca County census tracts had more normal rates.
The DOH has refused to provide WaterFront more recent lung cancer data by census tract for Seneca County, even after it was formally requested through the Freedom of Information Law.
“Rather than investigating the surprisingly high number of cancer cases, they have made the decision to stop providing the data,” said Barb Reese, a Seneca Falls resident who wrote the resolution calling for further analysis by the state.
“To turn a blind eye to data that has come out so far and not investigate further is a great disservice to the residents our community,” Reese added.
Val Sandlas of the Seneca Falls Environmental Action Committee said the draft HCA was premature in light of the landfill’s ongoing failure to address odor and health issues.
“It’s disgusting to me you are not taking care of our children,” Sandlas told the board. “Our schools are less than two miles (away) — as are the Waterloo schools, which are actually on top of the landfill.
“No amount of money should entice you to sacrifice the health and safety of our residents…For the love of God, call the Health Department, call the DEC, call the principals of the schools and start doing something about this.
“The host community agreement is not the answer here.”
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].