SENECA FALLS, NY (06/06/2023) (readMedia)-- Seneca Lake Guardian is urging all who care about the Finger Lakes region to submit a public comment to the Department of Environmental Conservation on New York's Draft Solid Waste Management Proposal (DSWMP) before the window closes on June 29. Not included in the plan is closing Seneca Meadows, the state's largest landfill. The group has drafted a sample comment to guide responses from the community. In the sample, SLG writes that the extension of Seneca Meadows negates the goals laid out by the DSWMP:
"To successfully develop and implement a circular economy and relieve Disadvantaged Communities (DACs) of their disproportionate burden as the DSWMP proposes, landfill capacity in the state must be restricted...However, if the Department were to approve the pending application to modify SMI's Part 360 permit for the "Valley Infill" project, low-cost landfill capacity will remain available at the state's largest active landfill until 2040, eight years longer than the term of the DSWMP. This would directly undermine efforts to implement a circular economy and work directly against the stated goals and objectives of the DSWMP."
"I implore anyone who cares about the Finger Lakes region to submit a public comment on the DSWMP before the window closes on June 29. The mountain of trash in our backyard already promises decades of cleanup and remediation. Creating more space for landfill waste is completely at odds with what the DSWMP sets out to achieve – a meaningful waste reduction strategy must include denying Seneca Meadows' expansion. The state's largest landfill must close on schedule in 2025," said Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian.
There is nearly unanimous public support in favor of closing the landfill on schedule in 2025 per a local ordinance. Owen Marshall, a visiting assistant professor at Cornell University, FOILed the roughly 475 public comments that DEC solicited on Seneca Meadows' draft scoping plan. His analysis shows that only 2 of the comments, or 0.4%, support the expansion: virtually all of the remaining 99.6% oppose it.
Recently, Seneca Lake Guardian – along with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environmental Advocates NY (EANY), Sierra Club, and New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) – sent a letter (attached) to Governor Hochul demanding Seneca Meadows close on schedule. The letter also called for the state to implement a comprehensive zero-waste strategy. In response, the DEC sent a letter that reads: "DEC values the input of Seneca Lake Guardian, and that of other members of the public. Public participation is built into our process. DEC is currently reviewing the 500+ comments received on the Seneca Meadows draft scoping document." Marshall's analysis of the comments make it perfectly clear: public input says the landfill must close.
The Seneca Meadows landfill, located in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of American Women's Rights, is the largest of 27 landfills in New York State. It is permitted to accept 6,000 tons of waste and produces up to 200,000 gallons of polluted leachate – formed when rainwater filters through waste – per day. 30% of the landfill – which stands at nearly 30 stories tall – is trash from NYC, followed by four other states.
Seneca Meadows was previously required to stop receiving waste and halt operations by December 31, 2025. However, Waste Connections, the Texas based parent company of Seneca Meadows Inc., spent around $200,000 in 2021 promoting pro-landfill candidates who won seats in Town Board and County races and are now supporting the Valley Infill, SMI's planned seven-story high expansion. The expansion would keep the landfill operating through 2040 with allowable dumping on the Valley Infill (the former toxic Tantalo superfund site), rising another 70 feet into the viewscape. Even with the planned closure in 2025, the mountain of garbage promises years of problems and remediation that could take generations to mitigate.
Leachate and wastewater runoff from the landfill contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can cause widespread contamination of drinking water and harmful health impacts. Landfills are one of four major sources of PFAS, and landfills account for 17 percent of total methane emissions.
SMI is located two miles from Cayuga-Seneca Canal and three miles from every school in Seneca Falls and Waterloo, potentially exposing students to airborne particulates and unseen gasses known to contribute to respiratory illness, asthma, and migraine headaches. The landfill cannot process all of the methane that is generated and is forced to burn almost a billion cubic feet per year in 5 flares, contributing to climate change.
SMI is harming the Finger Lakes' natural resources that have led to the region being under consideration for a National Heritage Area Designation, and which the $3 billion, 60,000-employee wine and agritourism economy relies on. The odor from the landfill can be smelled from miles away, including at Thruway exit 41, the northern gateway to the Finger Lakes. Large, sustainable employers in the area are finding it difficult to recruit and retain employees, because nobody wants to raise a family near a dangerous landfill.
SMI's expansion is also at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the New York state constitution passed last year, which guarantees every New Yorker the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment.
The "PFAS Surface Water Discharge Disclosure Act" – introduced by Assemblymember Kelles and Senator May last year – would require annual testing for all facilities permitted to discharge water. There are no federal or state regulations currently requiring PFAS disclosures from all facilities that might be discharging it.
A recent Rockefeller Institute policy brief showed that New York is one of nine states that falls well short of the EPA guidance on enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos recently tweeted about his agency's intentions to "better serve disadvantaged communities all across New York," which should include SMI. According to the draft criteria of the Climate Justice Working Group – established by the Climate Act – there are five disadvantaged communities in Seneca County.
About Seneca Lake Guardian
Seneca Lake Guardian is a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation with 501(c)(3) and is dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes, its residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist related businesses through public education, citizen participation, engagement with decision makers, and networking with like-minded organizations.