SENECA FALLS, NY (06/07/2023) (readMedia)-- On Thursday, June 8th, from 1 to 3pm, Governor Hochul will visit SUNY Cortland to host the Central New York leg of her statewide listening tour to advance the clean air, clean water and green jobs environmental bond act. The bond act was approved by voters last fall, and prioritizes investments to advance environmental justice and mitigate climate change. The tour is meant to provide an opportunity for the public and potential funding applicants to learn more, and weigh in on the draft criteria developed to identify potential projects. In response, Seneca Lake Guardian is asking the Governor to visit Seneca Meadows – the state's largest landfill – to see the effects the landfill has on Finger Lakes air and water quality up close.
"As the Governor travels the state to hear from New Yorkers about their environmental priorities, she should make the less than 90 minute trip from Cortland to visit the state's largest landfill. Living next to a stinking, towering landfill has severe implications for air and water quality statewide, negatively impacting public health and the climate," said Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian. "Come visit us, Governor Hocul, to see exactly why 99.6% of the public comments submitted to the DEC about the landfill are in favor of it closing on schedule in 2025. You'll see that closing Seneca Meadows is a project in line with what the Environmental Bond Act sets out to achieve."
There is overwhelming public support for 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.
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 threemiles 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.
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.
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 three 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.