By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO February 13, 2004 Approximately 200 people packed the hearing room in the Government Center on Wednesday night for public comment on the proposed 3.6-acre expansion of the County Landfill.
For hours, more than two dozen people voiced their fury at a landfill they say has devastated their community. The speakers received ringing applause throughout the night when they called on the county to shut down the landfill, or at least end any more expansion or importation of garbage from outside areas. Many also denounced the County Legislature for its actions to continue the landfill.
An Expanding Landfill And
Expanding Health Problems
Citizens from throughout the county but mostly Monticello spoke on the serious health effects they say the landfill has caused. Local doctor Abraham Garfinkel said he has recently diagnosed three patients of his who live on Rose Valley Road near the dump with brain tumors.
Although he admitted that he couldnt prove that the tumors were caused by the landfill, he stated that many residents who live on Rose Valley Road and the surrounding area have become increasingly ill.
"My son is sick," he added.
Carl Sonnenschein was outraged that the landfill was expected to be filled to capacity within the next year. He said that he was told five years ago that the five cells would last 20 years.
He asked John Kehlenbeck, Commissioner of Solid Waste, whether that statement was true, and Kehlenbeck confirmed it.
Sonnenschein continued, "My taxes are going up so that an outside contractor can dump his garbage so that we wont have a garbage dump."
Many residents echoed his anger at the countys decision to import waste from outside the county at a low rate, which has contributed to the landfill reaching its threshold.
A Smell That Is Everywhere
The majority of Monticello residents were irate with a terrible stench they say exudes from the countys landfill. Its an intolerable smell that they maintain has caused asthma rates to skyrocket, property values of homes to plummet, and children to remain confined to their homes. Even inside their homes, some say, the odor seeps its way in.
Local residents were not alone in their assessment that the landfills smell is unbearable. State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials present to listen to the publics comments admitted that the landfill was releasing a foul odor throughout the village that very same day.
Not only that, they added, the county has been fined numerous times for thousands of dollars by the DEC for excessive odors, litter, over-tonnage and a recent oil spill.
Kehlenbeck admitted, "We have been cited for odors and litter last week.
The Town of Thompson has been fining the county $250 a day since February 3 for violating a town law against odors. Furthermore, the town has a law which prohibits waste from being imported into the town from outside the town.
Connie Keller raised the prospect of a class-action lawsuit against the county.
"There are grounds for that," she said, pointing to serious health issues and plummeting property values.
Many residents like David Bunce said this was proof that the new gas-burning flares recently installed in the landfill did not work, and in fact, he said, nothing could work.
"Ive been complaining for seven years about the odor," remarked Bunce, who lives about a mile south of the landfill.
What angered him even more, he said, was being told by county officials in a letter that there was no stench. In addition, he drives his three young children to school because they cant bear the odor of the landfill when they stand outside to wait for their bus, or the 40-minute bus ride around the neighborhood, filled with the stench.
Directing his statements to the DEC, he said, "Stop this permit. The county doesnt listen to us. They have failed."
Testing Doesnt Calm Fears
Indeed, support for the landfill was hard to come by Tuesday night. Joe Barbagallo, the engineer for Malcolm Pirnie (the engineering firm hired by the county for the Cell 6 expansion), explained that atmospheric tests were being planned to determine if there were any health risks associated with the landfill. Limited tests, he said, had shown no carcinogens in the air. Barbagallo said further studies would be conducted after the winter.
Doctor Jeffrey Cohen, a Town of Bethel resident, responded, "I heard the same thing last year."
Lou Setren also took issue with Barbagallos statements.
"Two weeks ago, [he] said that hydrogen sulfide causes the rotten egg odor," Setren complained, claiming that the hydrogen sulfide in the air can turn into sulfuric acid when mixed with hydrogen and oxygen. He later compared the DMVs eye test to the nose test, which "the county has failed. The landfill stinks!"
Setren listed environmental asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses as a result of the landfill. He said his mother, who lives near the site and is over 65, "was diagnosed with environmental asthma. My sons have asthma."
His comments received the loudest applause of the night.
Weighing the Options
Legislator Rodney Gaebel, who supported the importation of garbage from outside the county as well as its expansion, responded to several questions by residents.
When asked by a citizen as to why the landfill could not be located in an area far removed from a residential neighborhood, Gaebel said that "millions of dollars in infrastructure" had been invested in the landfills current location which would need to be duplicated.
"The best option is to get out of the landfill business," he said, adding, "I think people are getting confused with phase one and phase two. This is Phase 1."
Phase 2 may double the size of the landfill, according to estimates.
Harry Brantz stated that the cell 6 expansion would cost $5 million "when they [the county] have no money. Where is the money?"
Vincent LaCosio, a resident and engineer who has worked on several landfills, said that instead of closing the landfill, it should be turned into a "recycling plant so people can keep their jobs and the garbage will not stay there."
County Manager Dan Briggs answered many of the questions during the question-and-answer period.
He said, "We are doing our best to control the odor."
Briggs deflected much of the criticism of the landfill by stating that decisions were up to the County Legislature. Five out of the nine legislators were present for the meeting: Chris Cunningham, Rodney Gaebel, Jodi Goodman, Ron Hiatt, and Kathleen LaBuda.
Frank Nutters, a village resident, directed his comments to the engineer and county leaders, stating, "I have tremendous respect for your trade, but it is filled with folly. . . . Why would we want to build a big, smelly landfill in the center of town?"
Nancy Mauer of Southwoods Drive, which runs near the landfill, asked, "How can we have a moratorium on [further] expansion?"
Briggs responded that the "moratorium issue will come up."
Problems Range Far and Wide
Bonnie Smith of Rock Hill, who lives several miles from the landfill, asked, "Why does it smell as bad in Rock Hill as the dump?"
The engineer responded that it was caused by the wind, which blows from the landfill easterly toward Rock Hill.
Amber Barr, a village resident, wanted to know if there would be a test of the water, as many of the residents near the landfill use water from wells.
Kehlenbeck said he was sampling "six to seven wells every quarter" and had found "no impact associated with the landfill."
Dr. James Green of Monticello was not so sure. He pointed to the contamination of Libertys water supply some years ago by MTBE leaking from a gas tank and how painful that was.
Village resident Wayne Bianucci said, "I dont care [about] phase 1 or phase 2. I feel there should be no more expansion. Sullivan County should come into the 21st century and pay our bills without a dump."
He was met with loud applause.
"Monticello should be the jewel of the county," he added.
Falling on Deaf Ears?
David Turek of Waverly Avenue and owner of the Carlton Hotel on Broadway was furious that he could not dump his own garbage from the repairs he is doing on his hotel. He said that he was denied by landfill officials from dumping his garbage, due to limitations on local trash.
Briggs told him he needed a permit. Turek responded that landfill officials told him it would be a waste of time to apply for one.
Some residents wondered whether their words meant anything to DEC officials, who have the power to accept or reject the expansion of the landfill.
Jonah Triebwasser, Deputy Regional Attorney for the DEC (Region 3) in New Paltz, said they did.
"Normally, I have a speech prepared," as he ripped up his written statement.
Speaking plainly, he continued, "As a member of the bar, my license and livelihood hang on my every word. . . . The fix is not in. This is not a done deal. . . . It is not only our job, but our duty. We will read every letter."
Triebwasser would not set a time limit on when a decision for the permit application would be completed.
Village of Monticello trustee and lifelong resident Vic Marinello remarked, "I have never experienced a smell worse than the landfill. I can smell it from miles away."
He said that "a promise was made by legislators to stop the importation of garbage. . . . Its time to get out of the importation business."
He concluded, "I want the village to go back to a friendly and courteous town."
Cynthia Niven, co-chair of the Special Protection for the Environment of the County of Sullivan (SPECS), said the county could not proceed with its application because legislators had failed to hold the proper meetings to inform the public on their modifications to the Title V action.
Gary Abraham, a lawyer for SPECS, said that the comment period should be extended, because information of the expansion had not been presented to him in a timely fashion by the county. He said that over 2,000 documents had come into his hands only recently, and he needed time to review them.
Abraham also contended that the county has already spent $4 million on its Phase 2 project.
Abraham said that those who were exposed to the odor from the landfill on a chronic basis were at risk for several diseases including neurological, respiratory and sexual dysfunction. Fetuses in pregnant women were at a high risk as well, he said.
Town of Thompson trustee Peter Briggs read a letter from Supervisor Anthony Cellini, who was unable to attend. In the letter, Cellini called for a moratorium on the landfill.
Village of Monticello trustee David Rosenberg, who maintains he has always opposed the landfill, said he believes the legislators "are people of good will."
Using Yiddish phrases like chutzpah and rochmanis, he described the countys request for expansion to be wrong.
It is not fair to them [residents near the landfill]. They are good people trying to protect their homes. Say no to the county," said Rosenberg.
What About Wildlife?
Ken Goldfarb of Monticello was upset that the landfill was adjacent to 25 acres of wetlands.
"Since landfills are unpredictable and fail, they should not be in a residential and commercial area where many people reside."
Referring to phase 2 of the expansion, he added, "This expansion will [make the landfill] 250 feet high, with [garbage] 2,000 feet long, plus 86 acres of landfill."
Written comments to the NYS DEC will be received until February 20. Correspondence can be sent to Lawrence Biegel, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 3 Office, 21 South Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, NY 12561-1620.