PAINTED POST, Apr. 14, 2022 — State officials have set final ground rules for an environmental impact review of a planned 43.3-acre expansion of the Hakes C&D Landfill before requiring the owner to make public a full permit application or other required documents.
The unusual process ordered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation favors the landfill’s owner, Casella Waste Systems Inc., at the expense of public participation, several groups and individuals have argued.
“I don’t understand why DEC is making the landfill’s neighbors fly blind,” Rachel Treichler, a Hammonsport attorney, said in reference to her clients. “This process is a big gift to Casella and a total sacrifice of the public participation requirements of SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act).”
As is customary, the DEC is requiring Casella to prepare an environmental impact statement for the Hakes project. For any EIS, state law requires public participation in a “scoping” process to determine issues to be covered.
The law also requires the landfill applicants to make public a full permit application, as well as hydrogeological and engineering studies — documents Treichler says the public needs to make informed comments in the scoping process.
So far, Casella has submitted a one-page preliminary application. The DEC says the other required documents will be released when Casella provides a draft EIS — long after the scoping process is finished.
Last Fall, the Sierra Club, Seneca Lake Guardian and neighbors of Hakes objected when the DEC launched the scoping process without producing the relevant Casella documents, even under Freedom of Information Law requests filed by Treichler.
Meanwhile, the agency released a draft scope — prepared by Casella — for public comment. When members of the public requested further information, the DEC referred them to a Casella-run website.
This week, DEC released the “Final Scope,” which formalizes the rules for subjects that may be covered in the environmental impact statement. The Hakes landfill issue that has stirred the most public controversy in recent years did not make the cut.
The EIS may not include a review of the landfill’s imports of drill cuttings from natural gas wells in Pennsylvania. Independent scientists suspect the cuttings are linked to high levels of radioactive isotopes found in Hakes leachate, while the agency insists they are not. In 2020, a Steuben County Judge sided with the agency, dismissing a Sierra Club suit.
The DEC did include in its final scope certain issues related to PFAS chemical contamination in leachate from the landfill. Although Hakes’ recent annual reports acknowledged tests results showing high levels of PFAS compounds in the leachate, the draft scope it prepared did not mention the problem.
Prodded by public comments, the DEC added the subject to its final scope. “Several comments were received regarding the presence of PFAS in the landfilled waste, leachate, surface water, groundwater and soil,” the final scope document says. “Sampling and testing for PFAS will be addressed.”
However, the impact statement my not explore shipments of that PFAS-contaminated leachate to local waste water treatment plants that may not be equipped to handle them. “An evaluation of individual WWTPs accepting leachate from Hakes and other landfills is outside the scope of the project and will not be addressed,” the DEC said.
The landfill expansion will require the rerouting Manning Ridge Road, but details of that plan have not been released. The DEC document promised that “traffic impacts will be evaluated and mitigated.”
The final scope also ruled that since “off-site migration of pollutants has not been identified, an analysis of pollutants present within the Corning aquifer and other public water supplies is not warranted and will not be addressed.”
Furthermore, “A special counsel to the Town of Campbell states that there has been no credible evidence provided that supports the claim of significant adverse impact on local property values. For the above reasons, property values will not be addressed.”
The DEC dismissed complaints that it is inappropriate to ask the public to rely a Casella-operated website as its primary source of documents regarding the proposed landfill expansion case.
“Commenters expressed concern that the applicant has the ability to track who visits the website and edit documents after being posted,” the final scope said. “However, commenters offered no evidence to support these claims.”
The DEC said it would continue relying on the Casella site “for the remainder of this permitting process.” It added that “certain SEQRA documents will be posted” on the DEC’s own website, and said documents can be requested from the DEC.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Bill Mattingly of Painted Post. “A whole set of required documents is not available to the public and yet we’re supposed to be making comments on them. Even the documents that are (available) are being controlled by the applicant and not the DEC. That’s just ridiculous.
“The DEC continues to show leniency toward (industrial projects) around the Finger Lakes,” Mattingly added. “Who’s side are they on?”
Larry Shilling, Casella’s regional landfill manager, did not respond to emailed questions and a request for the landfill’s complete permit application and the required hydrogeological engineering reports.
I think the organizations that oppose this expansion should take DEC to court and insist that DEC follow state law and the DEC’s own regulations to the letter.