December 8, 2021

County panel supports blocking ash

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Richard Champion, with Binghamton-based Bert Adams Disposal, compacts trash picked up in January from East Court Street in Cortland. A pair of bills amended on Tuesday by the Solid Waste Committee would enact flow control, requiring trash haulers to bring waste generated in Cortland County to a Cortland County facility, and allow for the acceptance of trash from seven neighboring counties. But the committee wants to meet with the county’s trash haulers before sending the bills to the full Legislature.

CCORTLAND — Incinerator ash won’t be dumped at the county’s landfill, even if the county takes trash from neighboring communities, under a pair of bills a Legislature committee amended Tuesday.

The solid waste committee voted unanimously to amend local laws A and B of 2017, which would do two things:

• Enact flow control, which would require trash haulers to bring waste generated in Cortland County to a Cortland County facility, which could bring up to $650,000 a year to the county.

• Accept trash from the seven neighboring counties, bringing in $30,000 to $50,000 a year, landfill Manager Gregory Ernst estimated.

However, the committee agreed to delay sending the bills on to the full Legislature until it has a chance to meet in public with Cortland County’s haulers.

“It’s not a race,” said Legislator George Wagner (R-Lapeer, Marathon).

The bills were introduced to the Legislature last month and hearings invited public comment. However, committee Chairman Charles Sudbrink (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor, Willet) pulled the bills from consideration to give the committee and public more time to consider and amend them.

In particular, environmental activists opposed wording that suggested incinerator ash would be accepted from contiguous counties. Two measures to swap Cortland County’s waste or recyclables in return for incinerator ash from Onondaga County have been defeated in the past 14 months.

County Attorney Karen Howe said the particular reference could not be removed, because it was phrasing included in state law, the county’s permit and a master plan overseeing landfill developments.

However, the committee unanimously inserted language into both laws that states: “Incinerator ash and/or incinerator residue shall be a prohibited item (material) not withstanding its
permitted use unless incinerator waste, incinerator ash and/or incinerator residue acceptance is specifically authorized by further resolution of the Cortland County Legislature.”

“I don’t want any residents to think we’re going to sneak this in,” said John Troy (D-Cortland).

Even with the amendment, people still had their questions, objections and alternatives.

Alison King and Todd Miller of Solon each had new estimates of how much flow-control would generate. Prior estimates had ranged from 5,000 to 9,000 tons, but King found several county documents, including a 2015 Environmental Impact Statement, that estimated the county would recoup 10,000 tons by making haulers keep their trash local.

Miller used three models, one including the 2015 statement, one of national averages of trash generation and one using data from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to arrive at a range of 7,000 to 11,000 tons, with the most likely probability around 10,000 tons.

One of the estimates displeased Greg Leach, owner of Leach’s Custom Trash Service of Cortlandville, because it specifically cited his company, which doesn’t take its waste to the county’s landfill.
“That looks like I’m being singled out,” he said after the meeting. “That’s inappropriate.”

The state data come from reports companies that operate transfer stations must file, but other trash haulers do not. It states Leach collected almost 7,400 tons of municipal solid waste, sludge and construction and demolition debris in 2015. The only other transfer station operating in the county, a municipal station in Virgil, collected 760 tons that already goes to the Cortland landfill.

Miller estimated other haulers took between 2,000 and 4,000 tons of Cortland waste outside the county, but can’t track down specific figures. “I would think that the only way to get that type of info is by requesting it from the individual landfills who weigh-in the haulers and keep running tabs of the amount they dispose at the landfill and charge them accordingly,” he said. “That data may be proprietary at private landfills.”

Still, 10,000 tons — whoever hauls it — would generate $650,000 a year. That more than makes up for the $324,000 estimated loss last year at the landfill, and takes a big dent out of the $800,000 deficit in the entire solid waste stream, which includes recycling.

The county has already raised the tipping fee $5 a ton, to $65. That would generate about $125,000 a year. Together, flow control and the tipping fee could create $775,000 in income toward an $800,000 gap. Ernst estimated that taking trash from neighboring counties, would generate $30,000 to $50,000 more.

But just because flow-control accepting contiguous trash would solve today’s deficit isn’t sufficient reason to do it, said Victor Siegle of Homer. He suggested the county do everything possible to extend the landfill’s life past the current 23-year estimate.

The longer the life, the more time before the county would need to borrow to open a new landfill cell. “Then you have many, many years with no bond. And that’s a wonderful, wonderful place to be,” Siegle said.

“With Seneca Meadows (landfill) closing, that’s handwriting on the wall that we won’t have a place to go if we don’t have our own landfill,” he added. Seneca Meadows in Seneca Falls has been ordered to close by 2025.

But efforts could be made to extend the landfill’s life even with flow control, King said, including increased recycling and reduced generation of trash. Legislators also discussed briefly buying a shredder, which could grind waste and reduce its volume about 30 percent.

All of this would mean changes to how the county handles its waste, and Leach said he would have to consider just what it means for his company and customers, particularly if he would be required to use the county landfill. “It would change it,” he said. “We’re set up to do something different.”