By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO August 5, 2005 The beginning of what could be a long, protracted fight over the Sullivan County Landfill began Tuesday at the Sullivan County Courthouse.
Concerned Citizens of Sullivan County, a seasonal Hasidic community directly across from the expansion of the landfill, and the Town of Thompson will be duking it out with the county. The regional office of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has a list of over 140 technical objections to the countys main 360 permit application. DEC attorney Jonah Triebwasser called them areas of our substantial concern.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur reacted with shock to the DECs list. He said he was under the impression that there was a good understanding over the issues. He said the concerns should not prohibit the DEC from issuing a draft permit for the 360 permit, the largest and most important of the permits the county requires to expand the landfill.
He went so far as to call for an adjudicatory hearing right away. The issues conference is meant to determine if there are enough substantial issues to require an adjudicatory hearing, and if so, who should be involved.
Triebwasser said his department wouldnt issue a permit until the county can satisfy us that they can run a landfill properly.
That brought Yasgur to the top of his voice, as he began to yell. In the end, the DEC and county agreed to meet on Wednesday in New Paltz to go over the technical aspects again. The next issues conference should begin September 20.
Much time was taken determining the legitimacy of the Concerned Citizens group. The regional office of the DEC and the county wanted to know if they include members of SPECS, another anti-landfill group. While they do now, they didnt at the time of the groups application. Therefore, SPECS wont be represented by Concerned Citizens, but instead, by the town.
The DEC and county also demanded a member list from the group, which they released on Wednesday. That list names the 64 families, as well as the head of maintenance, whose property lies within 300 feet of the proposed expansion.
DEC Administrative Law Judge Edward Buhrmaster, who is presiding over the hearing, called for a tour of both the landfill and the Mountain Lodge Estates. The tour of the landfill was to learn the mechanics of its operation, while the tour of the religious community was intended to determine its proximity to the landfill as well as its size.
After the tour, in which dozens of homes were viewed, Triebwasser said his department would drop its opposition to the community being a party at the conference.
Gary Abraham, who served as the attorney for SPECS at last years proceedings, is now representing Concerned Citizens. During his opening remarks, he said, A large landfill like this one will have unavoidable impacts on residents. . . . The best state-of-the-art facility will have toxic chemical [emissions] which will have an adverse effect on the people who live there.
Indeed, it is the colorless, odorless gas emissions which frighten the many people who live near and around the landfill. A trip to the top of the landfill for 20 minutes was enough to be headache-inducing.
At the landfill, Sullivan County Commissioner of Solid Waste John Kehlenbeck explained the ins and outs of the operation and pointed out several wetlands on the property, 20-foot-high fences meant to stop litter, and a liner system meant to protect groundwater from being poisoned. That water protection system has been attacked by some local residents as inadequate.
At the tour of the Mountain Lodge community, where families own their condominiums and generally stay there in the summer months, resident Esther Wilhelm showed the DEC officials the many homes, families, children, a swimming pool, a ritual bath, playground, and other items of obvious expensive investment. She and Debbie Sperlin, another community resident, pleaded with officials not to force them to give up their homes, which they said they would have to do if the 34-acre and over 100-foot-high expansion of the landfill occurs.
This is a haven for us, said Sperlin.
Wilhelm said the odor has been an ongoing problem for years and would become much worse with an expansion which would triple the amount of waste accepted.
Joseph Edleman, a board member, said on Tuesday that we are going to be stepped on by the expansion. . . . They are putting the biggest structure in Sullivan County on our doorsteps.
Michael Romasky, the caretaker of the community, lives there year-round. In 2001, his wife died of a brain tumor. Other people who live near the landfill site have also died of brain tumors or cancer.
Town of Thompson Supervisor Anthony Cellini took a tour of the landfill and Mountain Lodge Estates. He said it was extremely important that the judge recommend we take this tour and see the tremendous impact this expansion will have on their beautiful community.
He noted how the Sullivan County Courthouse and Concord Resort were both visible from the top of the dump.
Its already had a negative impact on the towns image, he said.
Cellini said the town is prepared to fight the expansion all the way.