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AVERY: Local Law 3 should be allowed to stand in Seneca Falls

This article is a direct rebuttal of Kyle Black’s guest editorial published on FingerLakes1.com on April 5th, and has been formatted to address each of the major points he made.

Seneca Meadows says that the Chamber of Commerce votes ‘no’. Officials representing the Chamber of Commerce have repeatedly spoken for the landfill and against Local Law 3.

Most of us think of the Chamber of Commerce as a pseudo-governmental body that works on everyone’s behalf to promote a pro-business environment. It is, in fact, at its core a lobbying organization that advocates for its paid members. On the home page of their national organization’s website, the Chamber makes the following pledge to its membership: “We listen to your needs and convey your message in the legislative arena, taking action on legislative issues that impact your business”.

This is exactly what local chapter president Jeff Shipley has done. He has addressed the Seneca Falls Town Board several times during the landfill debate. Each time, he has advocated solely for Seneca Meadows. He has refused to admit that the landfill, the largest in the state, and with a serious odor problem, could possibly be a deterrent to business growth and a healthy tourism trade. He has repeatedly stated that efforts to close the landfill convey the message that Seneca Falls is “not open for business.” If you speak to other businesses owners, whether they belong to the Chamber of Commerce or not, you will find many who insist that it is the landfill that is bad for business.

Mr. Shipley has refused to acknowledge the possibility that potential businesses have decided to look elsewhere because of the landfill. The gateway to Seneca Falls, Waterloo and Seneca County from the north (and from the Thruway) leads past a huge, smelly dump. Seneca Falls and Waterloo could be flourishing if the dump wasn’t chasing these prospective businesses away. Why won’t the Chamber of Commerce acknowledge that possibility? The answer is clear. Potential businesses, and future businesses, don’t pay dues. Seneca Meadows does, and would certainly pull its funding if the Chamber did not speak on its behalf.

Mr. Shipley has repeatedly described SMI as a “law abiding citizen.” However, every day that you can smell the dump, SMI is in violation of Section 300-26 of the Seneca Falls zoning law. They currently operate without a permit from the Town due to their inability to get the smell under control. SMI violated its site plan, as approved by the Seneca Falls Planning Board, when it constructed a rail depot instead of a tomato greenhouse. They also violated the Town of Waterloo zoning law when it constructed its haulageway through the Low Density R-1 Residential zoning district along Burgess Road. These are not the actions of a “law abiding citizen”.

Undoubtedly, the Chamber of Commerce does a great deal of good in our region. However, on this one issue, it is in a very difficult position. Local Chamber membership includes hotels, shops, restaurants and B&B’s that rely upon a strong tourist trade. “Platinum-level” Chamber member Seneca Meadows imports 12,000,000 pounds of other peoples’ garbage every day and dumps it on our town. The contrast is striking, and the Chamber of Commerce is caught in the middle.

Seneca Meadows says that Local Law 3 is legally flawed. SMI maintains that the environmental review was not properly undertaken, that they were denied due process, and that Town Board member Annette Lutz should not have taken part in the process.

Local Law 3 was passed correctly. The town attorney has said so. The environmental attorneys hired by the town specifically to address this issue have said so. The Town Board demonstrated compliance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act by its preparation and review of an Environmental Assessment Form, and the issuance of a Negative Declaration. This establishes in writing that the Town Board reasonably identified the relevant areas of environmental concern with Local Law 3, took a hard look at them, and provided a written reasoned elaboration as to the basis of its determination. As the environmental impacts were all positive ones, the finding was that Local Law 3 did not pose any significant adverse environmental impacts. Also, Local Law 3 is based upon a similar law passed by the Town of Carroll. That law has already been upheld in the courts through the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

Seneca Meadows claims that it was denied due process in the passage of Local Law 3. However, SMI took advantage of every opportunity to speak at Town Board meetings and the public hearing, submit written materials to the record, and have it’s own experts offer testimony. The town’s video archive from each of these events will bear this out.

The assertion that Town Board member Annette Lutz acted improperly in support of Local Law 3 is nonsense. She voted in support of her previously stated position. This is what we ask our political leaders to do. Ironically, Supervisor Greg Lazzaro was elected on a platform that included closing SMI in 2025. Once elected, he completely flipped on the issue. He has made his new pro-landfill position abundantly clear through frequent public statements and by storming out of the public hearing for Local Law 3. He maintained that position when the vote was taken, but was outvoted 4-1.

Seneca Meadows says that the 2016 law is inaccurate. SMI insists that Local Law 3 contains “baseless accusations” about their operations with no proof.

In fact, Local Law 3 does not mention Seneca Meadows at all. It does state that any
landfill operation “shall not extend beyond December 31, 2025.” In addition, the Findings section of the law includes general statements that refer to existing solid waste activities. Among those, are statements to the following:

  • “Landfills generate a substantial amount of truck traffic,” and that the increased “truck traffic adversely affects nearby commercial areas and residential neighborhoods, and presents a safety hazard.” Statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, accident analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board and health studies by the World Health Organization all state the trucks are dangerous. Period.
  • “Landfills generate odors which have resulted in complaints from residents.” This is undeniable. It is these odors that have caused the Town Board to refuse, month after month, to renew SMI’s local operating permit.
  • The combination of truck traffic and odors adversely affects “the orderly development of properties within the Town”. This is simple logic and common sense.

Seneca Falls should not have to wait for an environmental disaster or public health catastrophe before it acts to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. By that time it’s too late.

Seneca Meadows says that the 2016 law relies upon false statements. SMI points to the retail and service industry development on Route 414 as an indication that the landfill does not hamper development.

When much of the land was purchased and the projects planned for the area on Route 414 south of the landfill, the dump was not nearly as large as it is now, nor did it smell nearly as bad. How many of those businesses would make the same decision now? Has depressed real estate value, due to proximity to the landfill, made these parcels particularly attractive for retail? Finally, are these businesses looking forward to 2025, and a post-landfill environment, as an opportunity to thrive?

Seneca Meadows says that the 2016 law disregards odor control efforts. SMI complains that its efforts to control the smell are not acknowledged in Local Law 3.

Just like by your parents and your teachers, effort is appreciated, but success must often be required. This is one of those times. It has been pointed out through the course of this debate that, if ever there was a time for Seneca Meadows to demonstrate their ability to control the odor, this would be it. Yet they cannot. As
already mentioned, they have been without a valid local operating permit for several months, pending their ability to get the odor under control. Each month, we’re assured that they are trying. Each month, their permit renewal is denied by the Town Board.

Seneca Meadows says that the 2016 law could slash the town budget, resulting in significantly increased taxes. SMI points to the payments made through the Host Community Agreement as being the only way to maintain our Town’s facilities and services.

Seneca Falls residents, including me, have enjoyed what amounts to a discount on our real estate taxes since the landfill’s payments to the Town began. In addition, the Town has had the resources needed to give us our new Community Center, library and Municipal Building. That’s the “upside”. The “downside” is that there has been an alarming lack of fiscal responsibility over that same period. No one has been held accountable for the spending habits of the Town government. Purchases have been made, agreements signed and policies enacted with no regard to the long-term financial health of our community. The 2025 closure date gives Seneca Falls time to get its fiscal house in order and make decisions that will preserve services and facilities, yet lessen the blow when the dump’s payments cease.

One fundamental question that must be addressed by each of us is, “What is the purpose of the Host Community Agreement payments?” Was the money the Town received intended to reimburse us for current difficulties, inconveniences and expenses brought about by the landfill’s existence? Or, was it intended to create a dependence that would assure Seneca Meadows’ continued operation far into the future. If the latter is the case, 2025 seems like a perfect time to “kick the habit!”

The Seneca Falls Town Board should allow Local Law 3 to stand, let the court affirm it’s validity against the landfill’s Article 78 lawsuit, and look forward to becoming landfill-free in 2025.

Editor’s Note: This is a special feature to FingerLakes1.com and was not written by any member of the FL1 News Team. To submit an editorial for consideration it should be no more than 1,200 words, include identification, and be sent to josh@fingerlakes1.com. All submissions are run at the discretion of the FL1 News Team.

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