By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO March 18, 2005 Residents who live near the Sullivan County Landfill lashed out on Tuesday evening at the Sullivan County Legislatures proposal to more than triple the amount of waste taken in at the site from the current 1.8 million tons to approximately 6 million tons, in addition to expanding the landfill site to a 79-acre parcel including wetlands, and increasing the height by 100 feet.
The outrage expressed by the citizens occurred during the countys first environmental justice informational hearing on the Phase 2 proposal at the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello. The hearing will continue next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Government Center.
The hearings are a necessary component of gaining approval from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC will have to hold its own public hearing on the matter before any approvals can be considered.
Local residents contended they would be devastated by such an expansion of the landfill, which they claimed has caused immeasurable harm to their health, resulting in a number of cancer and brain tumor deaths not to mention the odor.
Beryl Junik, who lives 100 feet away from the proposed expansion, detailed how the 25-story-high Phase 2 project would tower over the area, holding up an illustration of the result of the proposal. The Phase 2 expansion would increase the height of the waste mound to 1,600 feet above sea level, making it clearly noticeable to all passersby on East Broadway and Route 17s Exit 106, the first exit to Monticello off westbound 17.
He called the landfill a monster in our backyards and a health hazard. Hundreds of people live within a one-mile radius of the waste site, including hundreds of children, he said.
He rhetorically asked how his country could go fight a war thousands of miles away to protect other human beings but he could not be protected on his own property.
Health safety was the predominant focus of the comments, but the cost factor was stressed by local veterinarian Larry Mauer, who pointed out that landfill-associated expenditures have already run the county debt up over $50 million, and that would only multiply with the new expansion.
I dont see how this is financially feasible, he added.
He called the landfill a bottomless pit which was deflating local property values while degrading the environment.
Why do that? he asked.
Mauer said that the drainage from the landfill flows into the Neversink River and a state unique area, where there are endangered species. He also has a small child and is concerned about his health.
Joe Barbagallo of Malcolm Pirnie, a county landfill consultant, said that construction of the site alone could cost up to one million dollars per acre but did not want to commit to that number. That does not include any maintenance costs, or the 30-year closure of the cells, which will cost tens of millions of dollars.
Ken Goldfarb, one of the chief leaders of SPECS (an environmental group opposed to the landfills continued operation), asked how many violations are required at the landfill before it is considered a failure.
He said there would be no buffer to protect the odor from escaping the landfill. The proposed buffers would not be tall enough to deal with a mound of waste that will be 100 feet higher than before. Furthermore, many trees would be cut down, which would have offered at least some resistance to the smell.
Bill Bunce, a local resident, said he had heard all the promises before. The first landfill was supposed to last 30 years, he said. He expressed distrust about the countys statements that it would limit the amount of waste taken in at the site to 200,000 tons a year. With five possible casinos and an increasing population, that number could be easily exceeded.
Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur defended the landfill. He said it was currently taking in less than half of the 200,000 tons it can accept annually per its permit. The legislature also raised its tipping fees last year, including a substantial increase for construction and demolition debris.
The decrease in waste at the site is largely due to the ending of importation contracts, he said. He also believed that some casinos would haul their waste out of county. He said that legislators were considering alternatives for a landfill.
He stated that the county has received a permit to begin construction on Cell 6. That could not be confirmed by the regional office of the DEC at press time.
Back on the critical side, Gene Weinstein used researched statistics to point out that all landfills inherently have deadly carcinogens in them. He said the most harmful chemicals are odorless, as compared to sulfur oxide, which has a distinct smell.
He also scolded the landfills planners for their barricade at the landfill, which he said would be no thicker than two credit cards a charge that was not refuted by Malcolm Pirnie nor by county officials.
He called for the county to begin composting and getting out of the landfill business. Sullivan County Solid Waste Director John Kehlenbeck responded by stating that a solid waste plan developed in 1992 stated that 50 percent of the waste at the landfill could be composted. It was time to review that possibility, he said.
Joseph Edleman of Mountain Lodge Estates asked where the county planned to relocate him. The landfill would flood his property, he said. Kehlenbeck said the county is prohibited from discharging any water or waste from the site.
Nevertheless, Edleman and Barbagallo said that water would be discharged into sedimentation ponds, then a sewage plant, where it would be discharged before emptying into state wetlands.
A number of people were worried about the effect the landfill was having, or would have, on their drinking water. Dan Lang, a hydrogeologist with Malcolm Pirnie, said approximately 25 wells have been tested, in conjunction with the local office of the New York State Department of Health. He said the office had the results.
Former Village of Monticello Trustee David Rosenberg urged the county to get out of the landfill business.
This is the absolutely wrong way to go, he said.
Dr. James Green, a resident who lives close to the landfill and who is a leading opponent, blasted Malcolm Pirnie for their graph on Phase 2, which did not display the increased size of Phase 2.
Cynthia Niven, another member of SPECS, called for a boost in recycling efforts to limit waste at the landfill, which would save taxpayers money, she said.
Cathy Diaco, who lives on Rose Valley Road directly behind the gas collection system, was another resident who wanted to be relocated. She hired a lawyer to get her home reassessed at a lower price last year, due to the continuing violations the county landfill has received. She has run a daycare facility for many years, and worried for the health of the children she watches.
Marie Ng, a teacher at Monticello High School, complained that she received notice of the hearing only one week ahead of time, instead of the three weeks which she believes is required.
She decried the landfills position as a welcome mat to Monticello. She charged that the landfill has, in fact, been a source of groundwater contamination. Both of her children have asthma and use inhalers. Five years ago, she was also diagnosed with asthma.
The landfill doesnt belong in a residential neighborhood, she said. Ten percent of the students at the George L. Cooke School, which is nearby, have asthma, she claimed, and people are selling their homes to get away.
Barbagallo admitted that there was, in fact, an issue of groundwater contamination due to a large pile of old tree stumps, but they would be removed.