Landfill Expansion Should Proceed

What a long, strange trip it has been for the Chautauqua County Landfill.

Nearly 40 years ago, the landfill was an environmental godsend; the solution to having 41 separate town, village and city landfills that were creating widespread environmental and public health issues which the smaller governmental units didn’t have the money to fix. It didn’t take long for that environmentally sound solution to become a financial albatross. Reports from the early 1990s estimated losses at about $4,000 a day, with then-County Executive Andrew Goodell proposing the sale of the landfill to a private entity so the county could cut its losses. Selling the landfill didn’t happen, but legislators had another way to balance the landfill budget. On Sept. 26, 1990, the Chautauqua County Legislature’s Environmental Committee voted unanimously to accept out-of-county garbage at the Ellery landfill. Thomas J. Harte, committee chair, said the decision was made to help the landfill break even financially. Before that vote, the only out-of-county garbage accepted at the landfill was through a special exception the legislature had approved for Bush Industries’ Little Valley plant; and even that move benefited a major Chautauqua County employer.

The legislature’s decision has worked out well for everyone but the town of Ellery. Accepting out-of-county garbage has turned the landfill into a bonafide revenue generator for the county while keeping garbage costs low for county residents who use the landfill. Of course, the byproduct of this financial decision is that the landfill fills up faster than anyone would like, meaning the county must expand the landfill or close it. Ellery officials, however, oppose the latest expansion plan on environmental grounds and after hearing concerns from town residents over noise, traffic and other issues for years.

County officials, including County Executive Vince Horrigan, have bent over backward to address town residents’ concerns. We fully expect that county officials will continue to do what they can to alleviate any environmental issues and concerns of town residents, including further discussion of a host site payment as was proposed earlier this year by Horrigan. Horrigan, who represented the town of Ellery on the County Legislature before earning the county executive job, is intimately aware of the concerns of town officials and residents.

There is no solution other than closing the landfill that alleviates the concerns Ellery residents and benefits the rest of the county as much as expanding the landfill and continuing to accept out-of-county garbage. We’re sure expansion is less costly than building a new landfill somewhere else. History has shown not accepting out-of-county garbage likely means the landfill will run deficits that taxpayers will then have to cover.

Given that accepting out-of-county garbage balances the budget of a major county enterprise fund and benefits far more county residents than it harms, we feel the expansion project should move forward.