By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO March 24, 2006 The landfill issues conference resumed last week for the first time in six months.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur, and Gary Abraham, the attorney for Mountain Lodge Estates, met in front of DEC Administrative Judge Edward Buhrmaster to discuss ongoing issues regarding the major expansion of the county landfill in Monticello.
The county has yet to address all of the more than 100 issues laid out by the DEC last year in order for them to double the size of the dump. However, they appear to have made considerable progress. DEC Assistant Regional Attorney Carol Krebs indicated that a draft permit for the expansion could be issued within the next two months or so.
The countys lack of recycling was identified as a major issue by the DEC last year, but Krebs said that some progress has been made. There are still inconsistencies in some of the reports on the countys recycling rate, she said. At one point last year, that rate stood at less than 10 percent.
Odor is another issue that must still be tackled. The county submitted a response to the DECs concerns last week. The DECs on-site monitors continue to cite the landfill for odor and cover violations. The DEC will be reviewing the countys response in the next few weeks.
In fact, much of the countys responses to the concerns of the DEC and Abraham from September were not submitted until last week. That will require several weeks of review by the parties, until they reconvene for another issues conference during the first week of May.
David Pollack of the DECs regional office in New Paltz said that overall compliance by the county has improved over the last six months but that there are still concerns regarding odor and gas control. He said odor continued to be the top concern.
He said there are also problems with leachate seepage, which contributes to the odor problem. The county must also do more to restrict gases from escaping the landfill through using intermediate cover, he said. The county was cited for a violation of the intermediate cover regulations in January. In addition, one of the countys gas flares has been blowing out, he said.
Krebs said there are many technical comments regarding gas and odor which still need to be addressed.
Abraham said that the past non-compliance of the county with DEC regulations, including many violations, should be a reason why the permit should be denied. He said the county should submit its past compliance history. He was admonished by Buhrmaster, who told him the DEC has those records and that he should have obtained them from the DEC to make his case.
The countys 2003 consent order with the DEC was an area in which Abraham was able to gain some traction.
He said the requirements of the consent order were not met in a timely fashion. Among them was an odor control plan which was supposed to be drafted in 30 days. That did not come about until several months later, he claimed.
The county violated its own solid waste plan from the 1990s when it did not meet its own 68 percent recycling rate projections by 1999, he said.
Why should we have any assurance that they will comply in the future? stated Abraham.
When Buhrmaster questioned Krebs as to whether the county had violated the consent order, Krebs could not answer. She confirmed that odor violations continue on site.
Buhrmaster further pressed Krebs as to whether the DEC would take any enforcement action against the county for its continual violations. Krebs responded that such action would be taken into consideration.
Yasgur defended the county by stating that much of the past odor problem was from a large importation operation which the county has since terminated. The county now accepts half of the waste it did two years ago.
However, he acknowledged that there continues to be odor issues on site, which are being addressed. He said the early capping of cells one through five would help reduce the odor.
Although flare one blew out, a back-up flare has been installed. Millions of dollars have been spent on hiring engineers and equipment to address gas control and odor issues over the past two years, he added.
But Abraham questioned why the county was applying for a permit that would allow it to take in 200,000 tons of waste a year when it only accepted approximately 80,000 tons last year.
Furthermore, Abraham contended that the county did not properly analyze the results of its tests for hydrogen sulfide in the air near the landfill. Krebs said that issue would be addressed by the DECs air permit specialist, Thomas Miller, at a later date.
The currently defunct Monticello Airport was another source of debate. Abraham contended the airport was open, while Yasgur berated the suggestion. The airport was sold last year and has not been in use since then. Development proposals have come forth but have not grown any further.
Buhrmaster instructed Yasgur that he would need to obtain a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration which substantiated his claims. Otherwise, the landfill could be a hazard to aviation traffic due to birds flying over the site, which will be 1,500 feet above sea level once fully expanded.
The Sullivan County Airport is also in the area, although it is about 12 miles away.
Abraham also lambasted the county for not complying with its agreement in a 2004 consent order to respond immediately to calls on its 24-hour odor complaint hotline.
He said the hotline was only an answering service and that the county would not respond until hours later or the next day.
In addition, he said the county was not remedying any concerns by local residents when they called the hotline. He contended that odors were being unfairly blamed on Turicks nearby junkyard and garbage trucks.
Noise could be a minor problem for the county, since the equipment it would use for the expansion would violate the DECs noise regulations. The DEC said the county would have to submit an application for a noise variance. However, they did not appear to suggest that it would be a major roadblock
Eugene Weinstein, a member of SPECS and a former Monticello High School biology teacher, said that statistics prove that 25 percent of all methane at landfills cant be fully captured. The gas escapes into the soil and atmosphere. Its a proven toxin and is also blamed for being among the foremost contributors to global warming.