By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO May 14, 2004 A firefight broke out Monday as attorneys representing Sullivan County, the Sullivan County Association of Supervisors and the regional office of the New York State Department of Conservation spent most of the day shelling Gary Abraham, the lawyer for SPECS, for not having a witness to back up his petition at the final day of the issues conference to determine the fate of the Sullivan County Landfill.
The issues conference at the county government center in Monticello was a forum where parties could raise issues regarding the issuance of a permit for Sullivan Countys expansion into Cell 6 of the landfill.
DEC Administrative Law Judge Edward Buhrmaster presided over the deliberations and will determine whether those issues necessitate a trial or whether the permit requires further regulations on the landfill.
Speaking softly and in hushed tones, Abraham charged the county with failing to follow DEC and federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations regarding the landfill.
For one, he contended that the landfill was cited daily by the DEC for violating its odor law. The DEC and the county did not respond to the accusation. However, the DEC finally gave the county a punishment for its violations by issuing a consent order.
Officials from the DEC said that the odor at the landfill had improved recently. As of April however, Abraham said the DEC was still citing the county for landfill and litter violations.
Abraham noted that the county has spent a great deal of money recently to improve conditions at the landfill. However, he charged that the county was only doing it now in order to obtain its permit for Cell 6 construction.
One of the main cores of Abrahams argument centered around the way the county was calculating the emissions from the landfill. Abraham said the county was estimating landfill emissions based on its use of the landfill for residential waste. However, the lawyer for SPECS said the landfill takes in approximately 100,000 tons of alternative daily cover a year, including many toxins. The county does not consider that to be waste and therefore does not calculate the emissions of those toxins.
Abraham said that was a violation of EPA law. The county imports incinerator ash from Rockland County, construction and demolition debris and sewer sludge. Some of the major toxins emanating from that debris, he said, were vinyl chloride, coluene and benzene. In all, there are more than 30 hazardous compounds in the waste. They lead to neurological and respiratory diseases. Many of the people around the landfill have become sick with them, he said.
What separates the Sullivan County Landfill from most other landfills in the country, said Abraham, is that it is in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur continually rebutted the case of SPECS by stating their arguments were deficient, since they failed to provide an expert witness.
Abraham contended that his arguments were sufficient, as supported by DEC and EPA regulations.
Yasgur used officials from Malcolm Pirnie, the environmental engineering firm which used to be the engineers for the county landfill, to refute Abrahams technical arguments by citing other material from the EPA.
Abraham continued to express his outrage for the alleged failure of the county to provide many requested documents. He said the county was stonewalling him by making him go through the long FOIL process. Instead, he said, the group went through the DEC, which was more accommodating but still failed to provide all of the necessary documents.
It was a rare sight when Jonah Triebwasser, Deputy Regional Attorney for the DEC, clashed with Yasgur. Triebwasser called on the county to clean up litter twice a day at the landfill. Yasgur said he objected, due to its cost and that other landfills in the state dont do so. Buhrmaster said he didnt care what the other landfills do.
Yasgur claimed there was no evidence that litter was leaving the landfill or that it was visible to residents. (However, many area residents have complained in the past about litter.) Yasgur said the DECs regulations didnt promote the public health.
Triebwasser took a distinct exception to Yasgurs slight, calling the regulations necessary.
I will vigorously defend the environmental necessity of the regulations, he said.
Furthermore, he charged that Buhrmaster had no authority to hear any issues relating to costs. Buhrmaster replied that he felt the fiscal aspect of the case was relevant.
Shouting near the top of his lungs, he blasted at Buhrmaster, Do you and the commissioner [of the NYS DEC], want to open the Pandoras Box of cost? Every municipality in the state will cry poor . . .
Triebwasser further contended that the county had the power to levy taxes and could also raise the tipping fees.
In another twist of the proceedings, David Engel, an attorney with the law firm Tuczinski, Cavalier, Burstein and Collura representing the Association of Supervisors spoke in unison with the county attorney throughout the day, stating the taxpayers of the county could not afford the regulations.
Buhrmaster continued to show concern about the countys failure to develop a new plan to control odors and litter. Triebwasser said the DEC would be giving the county 15 days after the issuance of the permit to come up with a plan. He said that if the county failed to come up with an adequate plan, the DEC could halt its operations.
Buhrmaster wanted to know why the county couldnt come up with a plan before the permit was issued. Triebwasser said they didnt want the plan to be rushed.
Controversy also arose on Tuesday when Yasgur declared that Abraham was asking the county to reimburse the group for its legal fees, else SPECS would not agree to the countys demands. Yasgur said the county offered to limit its intake of tonnage to 125,000 tons a year. He also said there was no legal basis for the county to pay the bills of SPECS.
Abraham denied the assertion. He said his group was asking for a grant from the county but was not demanding the grant as a requirement for an agreement.
The SPECS lawyer said the group wanted the county to limit its intake of waste to 100,000 tons a year. Furthermore, he was not satisfied with their proposal of limiting alternative daily cover to 50,000 tons a year.
Abraham said his group was an environmental organization in a designated environmental justice zone for its poverty and did not have the resources on par with the county, DEC or Association of Supervisors.
In a meeting between Sullivan County legislators on Tuesday, Kathleen LaBuda announced that the county has spent about $500,000 since January on new equipment, a new company (SCS) to assist in controlling the odors at the landfill, and additional personnel. She estimated that the county would spend nearly a million dollars this year to improve the landfill.
County legislators met Thursday to discuss solutions to the landfill crisis. Legislator Rodney Gaebel called for the meeting so that all legislators could meet together. They also plan on meeting next week to discuss all options.
Legislator Ron Hiatt asked that the meetings be kept open to the public. Gaebel responded that he intends to keep them open, unless they deal with litigation issues.
Buhrmaster will have to wait for the transcripts from the proceedings, before he can start issuing rulings. He might make several rulings as the copies of the transcripts come in. He is expected to begin making the first of his rulings in about a month.
The county wants to know his decisions as soon as possible, so that there is enough time to start construction of Cell 6. County Manager Dan Briggs has stated that Cell 6 may have to be aborted if the process drags into the summer, which would effectively shut down the landfill by early 2005.