Hakes Landfill Plans to Expand by 50% After Court Dismisses Allegations That It Downplayed Evidence of Radioactivity

CORNING, Mar. 3, 2021 — Seven months after a Steuben County judge dismissed civil allegations that it contained high levels of radioactivity, the Hakes C&D Disposal Inc. landfill is proposing to expand by more than 50 percent.

Map shows Hakes C&D Landfills proposed expansion.

The dump in Campbell, six miles northwest of Corning, is seeking state and local permits to expand by 43.3 acres to 122.2 acres. The project would cut across Manning Ridge Road and require the permanent closure of a 3,600-foot section of that road.

In addition, Hakes seeks to add 22.8 acres to its existing 22.2-acre “borrow area,” from which soils are excavated for landfill construction and operation.

The project would extend the life of the landfill by eight to 10 years, according to Larry Shilling, vice president of Casella Waste Systems, which owns and operates Hakes.

“We’ve got about five years remaining now,” Shilling said. “It takes a few years to get (expansion) permits, so it’s time to start. We’re right at the beginning of the process.”

In a Mar. 2 letter to officials at several town, county and state agencies, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Kimberly Merchant outlined the Hakes proposal. She invited any agency to express an interest in assuming the role of lead regulatory agency for the project.

Shilling said he presumed that the DEC itself would take on the lead agency role, which involves holding public hearings and deciding whether a full environmental impact statement must be prepared.

Casella’s Larry Shilling

Hakes is one five upstate New York landfills that for years have accepted wastes from natural gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania, a controversial practice that prompted the New York State Legislature to enact a 2020 law requiring all gas drilling wastes to be regulated as hazardous material.

Virtually all Pennsylvania gas wells are fracked in the Marcellus shale, a formation that tends to be relatively high in radioactivity. 

Casella, which operates three of the five Southern Tier dumps that have imported drilling wastes, has insisted that it only accepted “drill cuttings” from outside the Marcellus formation, chipped rock with negligible levels of radioactivity. 

But the Sierra Club and others filed suit against Hakes and the DEC in April 2019, alleging evidence of high levels of radium and radon on the landfill’s leachate. Casella denied the charge, and the DEC argued that the plaintiffs failed to make their case.

Acting Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister dismissed the lawsuit last July, concluding that the DEC “took the necessary hard look when reviewing the scientific evidence and came to a reasoned decision” when it discounted the problem of radioactivity at Hakes.

The Sierra Club filed a notice of intent to appeal, but it never completed the appeal. It also sought a preliminary injunction from an appeals court, but that was denied. 

Leslie Danks Burke, left, and Tracy Mitrano, right, at the Hakes Landfill press conference on Manning Ridge Road last August.

Last August, unsuccessful Democratic candidates for the state Senate, Leslie Danks Burke, and the 23rd U.S. Congressional district, Tracy Mitrano, held a press conference at the Hakes landfill to call for stricter regulation of fracking waste dumped there. Only days before, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had signed into law the bill that ended the gas industry’s hazardous waste exemption in New York. 

Rachel Treichler, attorney for the Sierra Club and other plaintiffs, said she had just learned of the Hakes proposal and was trying to learn more while weighing legal options.

“This is a big surprise,” Treichler said. “We’re talking to the clients in the earlier case.” 

John Stolz

Shilling said Hakes isn’t planning to add new sources of waste if the expansion is allowed. “We’re not changing a thing,” he said, adding that the landfill would continue to take Pennsylvania drill cuttings “if it works out.” 

Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania professor who has actively investigated fracking waste issues for more than a decade, said he has received a grant to study wastes from several Southern Tier landfills, including Hakes.

John Stolz, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said he was primarily interested in the landfills’ leachate — where it is sent for disposal and how it is treated. 

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