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Texas-based waste giant funds negative campaign flyers in bid to purge Seneca Falls Town Board

  • / Updated:
  • Peter Mantius 

For the third straight election cycle, Texas-based Waste Connections Inc. is far outspending all local candidates combined in a bid to tilt the Seneca Falls town board in favor of its subsidiary, Seneca Meadows Inc.

This year, the nation’s third largest waste company has flooded the small-scale market with multiple rounds of campaign flyers, phone calls and text messages touting Republicans Dawn Dyson and Wendy Crane in the Nov. 7 town election.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fourth mailing by Election Day,” said Doug Avery, who lost town board races in 2019 and 2021 to candidates the Waste Connections “machine” had promoted. “They’re doing more specific things this year than two years ago, or four years ago.”

Unlike RNSY’s previous 2023 mailings that touted Waste Connections’ favorites, the latest flyer focuses on attacking candidates it hopes to defeat.

Dyson and Crane face Democrats Steve Churchill, an incumbent who seeks to close the landfill in 2025, and Jackson Puylara, a challenger who’s received campaign donations from SMI critics.

Dyson, also an incumbent, and Churchill have run quiet races, while newcomers Crane and Puylara have actively campaigned door-to-door. Puylara has reported contributions of $7,788, while Dyson, Churchill and Crane have not reported any contributions over $1,000.

Meanwhile, Waste Connections, acting through the political advocacy group Responsible Solutions for New York, reported paying $94,092 since Oct. 10 to Mercury Public Affairs, its campaign consultant for the Seneca Falls race.

If past patterns hold, the landfill’s Houston-based parent company will spend considerably more than that by election day.  But it isn’t required to report its total contributions or expenditures on the 2023 race until after the election. 

Two years ago, Waste Connections wrote a $200,000 check to RSNY a few days before the November election. It didn’t need to report the contribution until well after the two candidates it had promoted in mass mailings — Frank Sinicropi and Kaitlyn Laskoski — defeated a pair of Democrats who favored a 2025 closing date for SMI.

If Dyson and Crane win and join Sinicopi and Laskoski, Waste Connections will have purged the town board of landfill critics.

Frank Schmitter is challenging Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Mike Ferrara after edging him in the Republican primary earlier this year.

That would suit Town Supervisor Michael Ferrara, who’s running for reelection after recently helping to negotiate a non-binding draft host community agreement (HCA) between the town and the landfill that could pay the town $10 million a year.

Ferrara is challenged by Frank Schmitter, who defeated him in this year’s Republican primary.

“Unfortunately, the landfill has the people of this town divided, and it’s not good for the people,” Schmitter said in a recent interview with FingerLakes1. He said town residents should vote on whether they want to see the landfill’s state permit renewed, and the town board should act in accordance with the outcome.

If the landfill stays open, the HCA should be renegotiated to require payments to the town of “no less than $20 million (a year),” he added.

The “Filer ID” column displays RSNY’s Filer ID number: 3865.

On the election ballot, Ferrara will appear on the Conservative Party line, while Schmitter will claim the Republican and Democratic party lines. Democrats have cautiously endorsed Schmitter, but some say his stance on the landfill is still in question.

For most of the past decade, the town has been divided over whether SMI should close when its state permit expires in December 2025. In 2016 the Seneca Falls town board, by a split vote, passed a local law mandating that closing date.

In spite of Local Law 3, Kyle Black, SMI’s manager, pronounced in March 2022 that his landfill would not be closing anytime soon. If that proclamation seemed unjustifiably bold at the time, it looked more on target after a judge invalidated the local law on a technicality earlier this year.

With Local Law 3 out of the way, prospects have improved for SMI’s application for a new state permit to expand and operate through 2040.

If Republicans Dyson and Crane manage to oust Churchill from the board, they will eliminate the last surviving supporter of Local Law 3. 

Crane recently told FingerLakes1 that she would not support closing the landfill, a business that employs more than 100 people. “To willingly shut down a place of employment and tell people, ‘We’re doing this on purpose. Good luck. Bye.’ …If each has a family of four, we are asking 400 people to leave our town.”

Churchill, on the other hand, is one of the landfill’s most passionate critics. He said the town’s addiction to the landfill’s HCA payments to the town — now about $3 million a year — reminds him of an addition to cocaine. “People in the community walk around in a stupor because of that dump money,” he said. “We can’t think straight. There’s a lot of fighting. It’s really fracturing the community. (The landfill) just has to close.”

Churchill said many similar-sized towns in New York survive and thrive financially without special payments from a landfill, and Seneca Falls would adjust to life without HCA payments.

Puylara has been less vocal about the landfill, but he has expressed skepticism about the draft HCA Ferrara negotiated. In a recent FingerLakes1 interview, he stressed other town issues, including the lack of affordable housing and crumbling infrastructure.

Puylara is employed by Waterloo Container, which is owned by Bill Lutz, a long-time SMI critic who contributed $999 to the Puylara campaign.

Andy Moss, a government affairs manager for Waste Connections, is listed as the “contact person” for RSNY.

Dyson has run a low-profile campaign. Although she initially voted to table a memorandum of understanding that endorsed the Ferrara-orchestrated HCA, she later switched sides and provided the pivotal vote for passage.

While RSNY’s first round of candidate mailings touted Dyson and Crane, its most recent batch goes negative against Churchill and Puylara. Bold red capital letters proclaim:

“SENECA FALLS TAXPAYER ALERT … STEVE CHURCHILL & JACKSON PUYLARA WILL RAISE YOUR TAXES.”

RSNY was founded in the summer of 2019. According to CampaignMoney.com, the 527 organization’s contact person is Andrew Moss. On his LinkedIn profile page, he identifies himself as “Northeast Division Government Affairs Manager at Waste Connections.”

This year RSNY also mailed campaign flyers to resident of the town of Waterloo, perhaps for the first time. Seneca Meadows straddles the towns of Seneca Falls and Waterloo, which also receives (smaller) HCA payments from the landfill.

The flyers promote Bob Lotz and Mike Pfeiffer, Republican candidates for the town board without mentioning their opponent, Democrat Ted Young, the town’s former mayor.

Lotz and Pfeiffer will “hold the line on taxes,” according to the flyer, which does not mention the landfill.

RSNY was founded in the summer of 2019. According to CampaignMoney.com, the 527 organization’s contact person is Andrew Moss. On his LinkedIn profile page, he identifies himself as “Northeast Division Government Affairs Manager at Waste Connections.”