By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO August 15, 2003 Last year, a group of concerned citizens formed the group known as Special Protection of the Environment for the County of Sullivan (SPECS). Since then, SPECS has tackled two large issues: the proposed Calpine Power Plant and the Sullivan County Landfill.
SPECS is against the Monticello landfills proposed expansion and the importation of garbage to the county. They have made numerous presentations and have spoken to the Village of Monticello Board, the Town of Thompson Board, and the Sullivan County Legislature.
And since January, they have been collecting signatures on a petition regarding these two issues. To date, they have 5,124 signatures.
Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini called for a public information meeting Tuesday night to allow SPECS and other concerned citizens to make their feelings on the landfill known to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials.
At the meeting were DEC Regional Director Marc Moran, DEC Regional Engineer Richard Baldwin and officials from the village, town and county. DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty was scheduled to be there but was unable to attend.
This meeting will not be adversarial, Cellini commented at the start. We are here to gather information.
Cellini then turned the gathering of more than 150 people over to SPECS Co-Chair Cynthia Niven, who introduced the SPECS board.
With the expansion, the landfill will get bigger, Niven said, referencing an eventual projected landfill height of 250 feet. Our figures are based on what the county provided in a 1997 study. These are not our figures. We are here to bring the citizens concerns to the DEC.
There is a connection between poor health and the landfill, Niven continued. You [DEC] should not permit the expansion. [The county] should end importation. You have sold away our space. It is unlivable. The $1.5-$5 million depending who you ask revenue you make on this is peanuts compared to the lost revenue. Why would anyone want to be by a landfill?
It will be a mountain of garbage covered by landscaping, Niven continued. What is underneath the landscaping has to be monitored for decades. The county cannot control the problems now. How will they control the problems with an extra 36 acres?
There is never a good place for a landfill, Niven continued. It was not sited. The county took over the village landfill and expanded it. It is in the wrong place. It needs to be far away from homes and hidden from view. It is the first thing that is seen at the entrance to village. This is no place for a landfill.
Before going into public comment, Moran explained the permitting process of the landfill.
We are not in favor or opposed to it, per se, Moran remarked. We regulate a number of activities. They must conduct an environmental [SEQRA] review. If there is a significant impact, they must mitigate or reduce them.
The County of Sullivan did a SEQRA review [for the expansion], Moran continued. They completed it. I assume it complied with the law. There are a number of permits they must obtain to move forward. They cover such areas as solid waste, air, and wetlands. It will be an open and public process. As of now, there is no application for the Phase II expansion in front of us. We were told to expect it.
Moran did say there is an application from the county concerning creating Cell 6 on the current site. The application is not complete but is expected to be within four to six weeks. Then it will go through a public process of review before it is approved.
Moran was asked about the SEQRA review the county conducted in 1997. Moran mentioned that the county had the option to do it themselves or have the DEC do it. The county opted to complete it themselves.
During the following public comment session, one by one, citizens spoke about how they are greatly opposed to both the expansion and the importation. They begged the DEC not to allow it. They asked county officials to figure out some other way to balance the countys budget.
I question the validity of an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] from 1997, remarked Monticello architect Ken Goldfarb. It is similar to the situation at the racetrack. Both have done updated EIS. Unlike the track, there is actual experience here. Your efforts have not worked. A new EIS is in order.
Two years ago, a lady who worked for the town that lived by the landfill developed a brain tumor, noted Monticello physician Dr. Abraham Garfinkel. Another person on Rose Valley Road developed an unusual and very rare disease last year. A month ago, a third person complained of a headache. That person died three weeks ago of cancer. We do not know where it came from.
Do not expand the landfill. You expand the dump site, and you will hurt us in the long run, Garfinkel continued. Cynthia [Niven] is our Erin Brockovich. When they do the movie, Julia Roberts should play her.
The county has failed to look out for its citizens, commented village resident Louis Setren. We need it for our own citizenry. We do not need importation. We have to chastise the county and the Legislature for this. The only legislators here that care are Bob Kunis and Jim Carnell [both represent the Town of Thompson]. We dont need this. Stop balancing the budget on the back of landowners.
There is not an odor it stinks, exclaimed landfill neighbor Diosdado Santiago. It has a direct impact on us. Strange diseases have developed. Any other community would have stopped this immediately. It is common sense. The government should not be in business. Just cut down on services. It stinks, and it is terrible. There is no great degree of understanding here.
You should be at the Mobil [gas] station at 5 or 6 in the morning, commented Sullivan County Legislature District 9 Democratic candidate Sam Wohl. It stinks. The town and the village have been gracious hosts long enough. It is time for the county to move it.
I have two young boys, and they cant wait for the bus, village resident David Bunce said through tears. This affects our quality of life. Three of my neighbors have passed away. It is enough. Do something.
I am not as knowledgeable as the other speakers, admitted summer resident Betty Molgain. I represent over 100 families who have invested over a million dollars here. This is our vacation place. Who wants to come here now? We would not stay, but no one would buy our homes. It is not fair. You all need to reconsider.
And the comments continued.
I represent 64 families, summer resident Mendel Lazinsky said. We average seven children per family. We live .3 miles down from the Mobil station. It has been an ongoing issue. The expansion will be right across from us. The environmental impact cant be good. I am begging you please, do not go forward.
It is becoming an annual event to have a public meeting on something that impacts our health, commented Rock Hill resident Alan Tucker. I travel Route 17. I see the caravans going to the landfill from all over. They are oozing liquid from the containers to bring it to the incubator that is the landfill. You have DEC vehicles on the road. Take some samples, and send them to the lab. They are polluting the area.
Cynthia is a much better dresser than Erin Brockovich, quipped summer resident Sorel Goldman. I bought glasses from the Concord bankruptcy sale. It is from the heyday of the Catskills. I would auction them off and donate the money so you wont do this. I invite you all to a sleepover it is big enough. You can smell it. A cover wont make a difference. We should all go to Monticello Greenhouse, buy a dozen roses, stick it in a bag of garbage, and give it to the county. Lets see if they like it.
One resident offered a solution.
It is great that we have all come together for this complaint session, stated Hurleyville resident David Ginsberg. The county has a damn big business going on. They are not going to give that up. We need to do fundraising so that we can proceed with litigation. We can file an Article 78, since they are acting counter to the interest of the people of Sullivan County.
We need to save the landfill for Sullivan County citizens, Ginsberg continued. We have to stop importation. We can talk until we are blue in the face. [The other seven legislators] are not here. They feel, The hell with Thompson, and the hell with Monticello. We need to get legal help.
The DEC is innocent, Ginsberg went on. These are things presented by our government. It impacts everybody. They feel importation is better than raising taxes or reducing services. It is easy for them. We should sue.
They decided in 1998 to close it, remarked Haddock Road resident Lynn Marsala. I brought my home there based on that. Three years later, they changed the vote and expanded it. It is collateral damage. We need to stop it before it kills us.
Dr. Jim Green, the head of the towns Environmental Council, mentioned they sent a letter to the county opposing any further landfill expansion. They also expressed concerns on the risks and hazards involved. Cellini added that both the village and the town passed resolutions opposing the expansion.
Once everyone was done, Carnell addressed the crowd.
Before I became a legislator 18 months ago, I was on your side of the fence, Carnell commented. You are not making this stuff up. There is a growing trend of new homes. We see growth. The landfill can accept 200,000 tons of garbage a year. In importation, we get between 100 and 120,000 tons per year. At this rate, the landfill will close in four years. Without importation, it will last eight years.
Both Bob and I voted no [on importation with Rockland and Ulster Counties], Carnell continued. The first time the vote came up for expansion, I voted no. I sent a message to other legislators to reduce importation.
We are the only two here, Carnell went on. You have to send the message to Liberty, Callicoon, and the river area. We need to change their view. Thompson had $17 million in new growth this year. It is up to $100 million countywide. We made $8 million in three real property tax auctions last year. We got out of our deficit. The time to change is now.
Our focus is to help the county, Moran said in conclusion. We deal with particular issues. We have made some progress in the last few weeks and months. There is more work ahead.
Moran noted that there was no other landfill in DEC Region 3. Also, there are very few in the state the size of the countys landfill.
Cellini thanked all for coming at the conclusion of the two-hour meeting. Setren told the crowd to voice their concerns to the Legislature at their monthly meeting on Thursday, August 21, at 2 p.m. at the Sullivan County Government Center.