The City of Albany is proposing to expand the existing Rapp Road Landfill in order to continue to meet the solid waste disposal needs of City residents and businesses as well as the communities that make up the regional solid waste planning unit. The following questions and answers provide some basic information about solid waste management in the Capital Region and the landfill expansion project.
During the early 1980’s most individual municipal landfills were closed. Municipalities within the Capital Region joined state mandated solid waste planning units that became responsible for the development of a Solid Waste Management Plan for each planning unit. The City of Albany and 10 other municipalities joined together to form a planning unit known as the ANSWERS Solid Waste Planning Unit that is comprised of the cities of Albany, Rensselaer, and Watervliet, the towns of Berne, Bethlehem, Guilderland, Knox, New Scotland, Rensselaerville, and Westerlo, and the villages of Green Island and Altamont.
Other municipalities joined other planning units that became responsible for waste management for those municipalities, primarily in other counties. The only two solid waste landfills now operating in the four county region are the municipally owned and operated landfills in the City of Albany and Town of Colonie.
A Solid Waste Management Plan is a document prepared by the regional planning unit that analyzes the waste stream of the planning unit and determines appropriate ways to handle, recycle and ultimately dispose of solid waste. These plans are required by State Environmental Conservation Law. The Answers Plan for the Albany Region communities is a State approved Plan.
The ANSWERS Solid Waste Management Plan identified materials to be recycled and determined that the most cost effective, environmentally sound method for the disposal of residual wastes was landfilling. Following the preparation of the Plan, a landfill siting study was prepared that identified a number of locations for the development of a new landfill once the existing Rapp Road Landfill was closed. This siting study was conducted based on rigorous criteria and screening methods established by the NYSDEC for siting any new landfill in New York State. Ultimately, a site known as Site C-2 in the Town of Coeymans was identified as the most appropriate site for a new landfill facility.
The permitting and design of a new landfill facility can take many years. Decisions made early in the process can have long lasting impacts with respect to the cost and life of the new facility. During the continued investigations of Site C-2 as required by State law, certain previously unmapped federally regulated wetlands were discovered in an area where future phases of the landfill would be developed. To develop the site to meet the needs of the Planning Unit for 20 years, a mitigation plan off-setting the impacts to these federal wetlands will need to be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The implementation of a mitigation plan can be expensive and take a number of years. While initial phases of the landfill can be developed without disturbing these federal wetlands, the costs of developing the infrastructure for the site would be excessively high without the benefit of developing the site for 20 years of service. As a result, it is prudent to apply for an expansion of the Rapp Road Landfill while the mitigation plan is prepared, approved and implemented. The investigation at Site C-2 has been further delayed by repeated litigation challenging the City’s actions regarding the site.
The Rapp Road Landfill is located in an area adjacent to Exit 24 of the New York State Thruway known as the Pine Bush Preserve. The name Pine Bush is taken from its dominant and unique pitch pine and scrub oak vegetative community. Areas within the Pine Bush that have not been previously disturbed harbor several rare and endangered species. The City looked at several possible expansion alternatives at the Rapp Road facilities, and is proceeding with the alternative that appears to have the least impact on the Pine Bush Preserve. This alternative is entirely within the City of Albany on land that was purchased by the City of Albany in the 1970’s for public purposes. Much of it is part of the existing landfill parcel itself. The land is owned by the City of Albany, but had been dedicated to the Pine Bush Commission in the early 1990’s for the purposes of management. At that time, it was dedicated as part of a concerted effort to achieve 2000 acres of protected Pine Bush habitat. As a result of the success of the Pine Bush Commission since that time, over 3000 acres are now in Preserve.
The City of Albany has been an active participant in the preservation activities regarding the Pine Bush. When the permit for the Albany Interim Landfill was granted in 1990, the City agreed to fund certain start-up costs of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, and to create an endowment of approximately $1 million dollars. Additionally, the City has spent approximately $6 million to acquire parcels of land necessary to establish a viable preserve. Since 1995, the City has contributed over $1.5 million dollars to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission through the imposition of a “tip fee surcharge” on all waste handled at the landfill. In addition, as part of the closure of previously filled sections of the Rapp Road Landfill, the City is utilizing appropriate vegetative species that are consistent with the native vegetation found in the Pine Bush. The City is committed to the continued use of native vegetative species as part of the closure of sections of the landfill as they are filled so that once the entire facility is closed, native Pine Bush species will return to the landfill area. For the proposed expansion, the City will continue to work with the Pine Bush Commission through the permitting process, proposing additional mitigation measures, in an effort to offset the loss of the ten acres needed for the expansion, and to further advance the preservation of the Pine Bush.
Methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is generated as waste decomposes in a landfill, is collected and utilized to produce energy at the Rapp Road Landfill. The City currently holds a contract with a private entity that utilizes the gas to operate an engine/generator to produce electricity that is directed into the NIMO power grid. In 2003, the parent company of the private firm went into bankruptcy and the company stopped investing the funds needed to up grade the gas collection and management equipment. The City of Albany had to step in and begin the process of gas field improvements itself. After two years of legal negotiations, the City has renegotiated the contract and will be taking over management of the gas collection infrastructure. The last major equipment upgrade will be installed in early February 2006 and the City will begin to manage the entire gas field system. In addition, the City is currently negotiating a contract with another private entity that will utilize the methane from a newer area to produce compressed natural gas suitable to be used as an alternative to gasoline and diesel fuel in vehicles. This will help to reduce dependence in foreign oil.
If the Rapp Road Landfill was no longer available for waste disposal, and Site C-2 in Coeymans was not yet developed, the City would be forced to develop a transfer station so waste could be exported. While at the moment, there are a few large privately operated landfills in the western part of New York State that might be able to provide capacity for the City and other planning unit members via a waste disposal contract. However, there is no assurance these facilities would be available to the City long term. Assuming adequate capacity were available, the waste would need to be loaded onto large trailers for transport. The long hauling of waste can be an expensive operation given the cost of fuel and the manpower necessary to transport the waste. In addition, the City would have to pay tipping fees at these facilities on a per ton basis. As a result, should the City be required to export waste, it is anticipated the costs of that operation would far exceed the costs associated with continued operation of a local landfill. The cost of waste disposal would then increase for residents and businesses within the Capital Region, and the Region would no longer control decisions about where its waste is disposed. This would result in higher waste disposal fees for residents, businesses, and institutions alike throughout the region. City of Albany residents and businesses would be particularly hard hit due to the loss of landfill revenue to the City. Significant tax increases and/or layoffs combined with service cuts would be the only recourse to the City.
There are a number of waste-to-energy facilities in operation within New York State. While the technology regarding the pollution control systems associated with these facilities has improved over the years, these types of facilities are very expensive to construct and operate. In general, tipping fees associated with waste-to-energy facilities are 3 to 4 times higher than permitted landfill facilities. In addition, changes in air pollution control regulations, and subsequent required modifications to control systems utilized at waste-to-energy facilities, can significantly affect the long-term economic viability of these facilities. Given the construction and operational costs of these facilities, waste-to-energy plants must operate at near capacity so that maximum revenue can be generated. This greatly differs from a landfill facility where landfill space not utilized in a given day is still available for use in the future. Finally, even with a waste to energy plant, you would still need a landfill for the disposal of ash. For all these reasons, the ANSWERS Solid Waste Management Plan recommended a regional landfill, not a waste-to-energy facility following an exhaustive evaluation of the various treatment and disposal options reviewed as part of the planning process.
The City has an aggressive recycling program that collects newspapers, phonebooks, magazines, paperboard, cardboard, glass and plastic jars and bottles, and metal cans. The City also collects yard waste including grass clippings, leaves and tree branches. In addition, the City also collects bulky items such as tires and white goods (refrigerators, washing machines, etc.), and household hazardous waste. When all of the individual achievements of the distinct programs are tallied, the program yields an approximately 31% diversion rate (based on weight from 2002 totals). This diversion rate is accomplished at ‘the curb’. Department of General Services (DGS) staff completes 30,000 collection stops weekly collecting over 13,000 tons of recycled material annually. This diversion rate is a ‘solid’ number based on actual tonnages and scale data that is derived from weight measurements of DGS collection activity.
The goals of the program are defined by two basic paradigms; the micro or local level and the macro or global level. The goal of the program in the micro paradigm is to decrease the volume of waste disposed at the landfill in order to extend the capacity of the landfill for as long a period as feasible
In terms of the global or macro impacts of the program, the program not only diverts global waste inputs but also provides a supply of materials that replace virgin materials in various manufacturing processes. This supply allows manufacturers to reuse plastics, metals, paper, etc thus limiting the global harvesting of fossil fuels, metals and wood products. Minimizing the extraction of virgin materials not only serves to expand the reserves of these materials but also mitigates the emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants that result from the extraction of the virgin materials.
The City anticipates submitting an application to DEC in early 2006 . As part of the permitting process, DEC will solicit public input as to what the City should include in the documents reviewing the environmental impacts of the project. Once DEC accepts the City’s application, it will hold a public hearing for the public to comment on the application. This will likely occur towards the end of next year. The City’s existing landfill will reach capacity some time in 2009, so the City will need permission from DEC to construct the landfill in 2008 in order to avoid any gap in landfill capacity.