The state’s largest landfill is battling local efforts to force its closing in 2025, and its chances of success may hinge on the outcome of the Nov. 7 election to fill two seats on the five-member Seneca Falls Town Board.
Of the four candidates vying for the two open spots, two are committed to closing Seneca Meadows Inc. in eight years, while two are not.
Even as foul landfill odors continue to waft over the community, unsolicited mailings warn potential voters that they’ll face a 300% tax increase if they turn their backs on Seneca Meadows.
“Call the Town Board,” says one flyer that bears the landfill’s logo. “Tell them none of us can afford a 300% tax increase. Not now. Not ever. Rescind Local Law 3 now!”
Another says: “A 300% tax hike would decimate families, destroy the local economy …”
The flyers don’t refer to candidates by name, nor do they mention the potential 2025 landfill closing date. Instead they target Local Law 3, which mandates that Seneca Meadows shut down by the end of that year.
Local Law 3 rests on uneven footing. It was passed on Dec. 6, 2016 by a seemingly decisive 4-1 vote, but two of the ‘yes’ votes were lame duck board members who had lost elections the month before to Republicans Lou Ferrara and Tom Ruzicka.
In May, Ferrara and Ruzicka joined Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro in voting for a new law repealing Local Law 3 and allowing the landfill to continue operating beyond Dec. 31, 2025.
But that new law was vacated by a state Supreme Court Judge in September on the grounds that the board’s 3-2 majority failed to take a legally required “hard look” at the environmental consequences of extending the landfill’s lifetime. That action put Local Law 3 back in force again.
Amid the helter-skelter local politics, the state Department of Environmental Conservation was being flooded with complaints that odors from Seneca Meadows were persistently out of control — in violation of local ordinances, state law and the host agreement between the town and the landfill. Dozens of local residents spilled out their gripes at public hearings DEC officials held over two days in August.
The DEC has been allowing the landfill to operate under an air quality permit that expired in 2012. The agency says that’s OK because the landfill has applied for a renewal and the DEC is working on it. The DEC also delegates to Seneca Meadows the duty of responding to air quality complaints even as the landfill tries to cover up the unpleasant stench with grape-flavored air freshener.
Many who complained at the hearings in August urged the DEC not to grant Seneca Meadows its request for a 10-year extension of its state permit to accept 6,000 tons of waste per day at its 898-acre site (360 acres actively used) on Route 414 just west of Seneca Falls.
On Oct. 31, the DEC heeded their cries, limiting the landfill’s operating permit to eight years and putting it in synch with Local Law 3’s mandatory closing date of 2025.
“It was a small victory for (landfill opponents) because the standard extension would have been 10 years,” said Doug Avery, a Democratic candidate for the Town Board. The eight-year extension “brings the state permit in line with the host agreement and Local Law 3.”
Candidates Avery and incumbent Democrat Dave DeLelys support Local Law 3. Republican incumbent Ruzicka opposes it, and Republican candidate Steve Turkett, a former town code enforcement officer, appears to lean against it.
“We do not need to send a message that the town is not open for business and will enact local laws to force business closures and discourage new startups,” Turkett told the Finger Lakes Times.
The current Town Board is in favor of overturning Local Law 3, even if its efforts to do so were slapped down by a judge. Supervisor Lazzaro, Ferrara and Ruzicka voted in April to rescind Local Law 3.
If either Ruzicka or Turkett win Tuesday, Avery and DeLelys presume the Town Board will try again to repeal the law and its 2025 landfill closure date.
But if both Democratic candidates are elected, they hope to team with Republican Vic Porretta, who voted for Local Law 3, to keep it in force.
Lazzaro and Ferrara have underscored the economic importance of the landfill and its host agreement with the town, which provides 20% or more of the town’s $12 million budget.
Under the host agreement, the landfill pays the town 5.5% of its annual net revenue. The town had budgeted $2.3 million for 2017. But in at a Town Board meeting February, landfill manager Kyle Black presented the town a check for $3.016 million.
Black told the board at that meeting that the landfill had already spent $7.5 million on odor mitigation and expected that total to rise to as much as $13 million, the Finger Lakes Times reported.
Even so, then-town attorney Patrick Morrell urged the Town Board not to issue a renewal of its annual zoning permit for the landfill, pending the adopting of a formal odor control plan.
Morrell later resigned under pressure from Lazzaro and Ferrara.
Lazzaro declined to be interviewed for this article.
According to DeLelys, Lazzaro recently proposed raising property tax rates from $3.61 to $6.09 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 69% increase.
DeLelys said he opposes any such increase. He’s confident the town can gradually cut out from its budget the money received from the landfill host agreement, based on his talks with town department heads.
“We have eight more years to wean ourselves from the host agreement,” he said.
Meanwhile, the DEC is working to address complaints that landfill air emissions include hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and dust.
The agency said in its Oct. 31 ruling that when the long-expired air quality permit is eventually renewed it will contain specific limits for some of those emissions. That renewal is still months away, but the DEC said the opening of a public comment period on a proposed renewal air permit “is expected soon.”
Also coming soon:
— A court hearing, repeatedly postponed, will address DeLelys’ assault allegations against Ruzicka, sitting Town Board members on opposite sides of the fence on Local Law 3. Ruzicka has pled not guilty concerning an incident at a restaurant hours after the board voted to rescind the law in May. DeLelys alleges that Ruzicka rose from a bar stool when DeLelys and his wife were passing and grabbed him by the shirt.
— Draining a Seneca Falls wastewater treatment tank that receives hazardous leachate from Seneca Meadows. The DEC reported Oct. 30 that the tank was continuously leaking at the rate of 30 gallons per minute.
— The state Comptroller’s Office has accepted invitations from local residents, journalists and Ferrara, among others, to probe Seneca Falls’ finances and operations, according to Ferrara.
But first, the election.