ELLERY - Chautauqua County generates garbage, and it needs to go somewhere.
But several residents of the town of Ellery, including Arden Johnson, town supervisor, oppose future landfill expansion.
As the landfill in its current capacity is scheduled to be filled by 2017, county officials have proposed creating a new cell next to its current active cell. While four years is ample time to negotiate, compromise, or change opinions and viewpoints, it seems that one line has already been drawn in the sand regarding expansion.
Chautauqua County predicts its landfill will reach its capacity by 2017 and wants to expand the property by then. Town of Ellery officials object to that plan and are asking residents to weigh in on the idea.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
HISTORY OF THE LANDFILL
According to Keith Stock, landfill engineer, Chautauqua County used to keep 42 to 46 individual landfills before the County Landfill in Ellery was created.
"They were primarily open dumps," Stock said. "Most villages and towns had their own kind of dump. For the most part, those dumps were uncontrolled; they didn't have any type of environmental protection in place. Mostly people just drove out and dumped their trash when they needed to."
"It provides a tremendous service to the businesses and residents."
Chautauqua County executive
"What is this going to do to the future of that community?"
Stock said that some of the dumps would keep an employee on hand to help direct traffic, but regulation beyond that was very relaxed. However, in the late 1960s, the county began to look at the way individual dumps were kept, and began to consider alternatives.
"Before we had a county executive and a county legislature, we had a county board of supervisors," Stock said. "Supervisors began looking into consolidating some of these landfills, and part of that impetus was a growing recognition of the environmental problems that were beginning to become regulations which the towns and villages needed to recognize."
Stock cited mandatory covering of the trash and control vectors as some of the new regulations.
"For a very small landfill or a town dump, those are very expensive things to have to do," Stock said. "For the little bit of trash that people were bringing in, it just didn't make sense anymore for (the towns and villages) to try to do that themselves anymore - it simply became too expensive."
Stock said that county supervisors and several towns and villages within Chautauqua County desired to consolidate their efforts into a more efficient, centralized operation.
"It made sense to look for a regional approach," Stock said. "Priorities shifted toward having a single facility that would be properly (maintained), carefully engineered and designed and fully permitted, where there was enough waste coming in there for it to make economical sense to pay for the types of control that would be needed."
According to Stock, there were a series of planning studies performed which looked at different options, but eventually the county decided on opening a single, central facility.
"While a site for the (Chautauqua County landfill) was being determined, the county took over operation of six currently existing landfills and monitored them," Stock said. "They then looked at several different locations for the potential landfill, and they narrowed it down to three sites before rigorously testing each site. Ultimately, after looking at everything, they picked (the location in Ellery)."
Following local site review, the location in Ellery had to undergo several DEC reviews, such as the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. Upon receiving DEC approval, the county closed the six individual dumps it had been maintaining, and moved all operations to the current Chautauqua County landfill.
In addition to the landfill, the county currently maintains three transfer stations to reduce traffic into the landfill. These stations are in Pomfret, Sheridan and Falconer.
On Aug. 1, Johnson, town of Ellery supervisor, voiced the town's opposition of the landfill's proposed expansion in a letter to The Post-Journal.
"The town of Ellery is opposed to future expansion of the landfill and has hired an environmental engineering firm, Ensol Inc., to assist it in reviewing the present landfill and the proposed expansion," the letter said.
"The reason we're opposing (the landfill expansion) is that the long-term environmental effects of it will certainly affect the quality of life for the residents in the town of Ellery," Johnson said. "This (expansion) is going to be over a period of 20 years, but when this landfill was first started, it was supposed to be a County Landfill, for county residents only. Now we're getting everything that you can think of from Erie, Pa., from Cattaraugus County, from Buffalo - the people around the landfill are just very upset about it. The board and I are also very concerned about the environmental effects."
According to Johnson, a primary concern about the landfill's proposed expansion, aside from the town's environmental concerns, is that the new cell would be located approximately 1 to 2 miles away from the community of Ellery Center.
"What is this going to do to the future of that community?" Johnson asked. "When the landfill first went in, it was strictly for the residents of Chautauqua County, and it was supposed to last (a very long time). We can't help but believe that accepting waste from outside the county has sped up the need to create a new cell."
Johnson said that, although there are not any meetings between the town of Ellery, the county and the landfill scheduled right now for potential discussions on compromises regarding the landfill's forthcoming course of action, the town is planning on meeting with environmental engineers to generate more data regarding possible consequences of the landfill's expansion.
"We have an environmental attorney, and I want to talk to him, as well as the engineers," Johnson said. "It is very important to get a solid understanding of what lies ahead for us."
Additionally, Johnson said that any town resident who has not filled out a landfill impact survey, but would be interested in doing so, may obtain one by calling 285-3920, ext. 217, or by visiting elleryny.org/pdfs/landfillsurvey.13.pdf. All surveys will help the town to determine its next course of action.
"We want to represent our residents' concerns the best we can," Johnson said. "What the county (believes is the best course of action) and what the town believes is two separate things, and we want to make sure our residents' voices are heard."
LANDFILL EXPANSION REQUIRED BEFORE 2017
Although a general trend toward environmental sustainability has many forward-thinking people and businesses actively attempting to reduce the amount of refuse they create, it is a cold, hard fact that people create garbage as a byproduct of living.
George Spanos, Chautauqua County Public Facilities director and professional engineer, explained that the landfill provides an affordable service for the county's residents, works hard to seamlessly comply with all DEC regulations, and places an emphasis on being a good neighbor.
"We receive about 1,000 tons of garbage per day," Spanos said. "The landfill is permitted to receive up to 408,000 tons per year, at a maximum of 102,000 tons per quarter. This (threshold) can be exceeded with proper DEC approval. On average, we're allowed to take in (1,120) tons per day, but we average around 1,000 tons per day."
Spanos explained that roughly 70 percent of all garbage that enters the landfill is generated in Chautauqua County, and approximately 30 percent comes from municipalities outside of the county. However, this practice is not a recent occurrence, and is the result of the Chautauqua County Legislature determining that doing so would ultimately be a benefit to the residents of the county.
"The concerns that the citizens have (regarding out-of-county refuse entering the landfill) are valid," Spanos said. "But you have to understand that if (the landfill) accepts 700 tons of garbage a day, or 1,000 tons a day, it would require the same amount of equipment and personnel. What the out-of-county refuse does is reduce the cost of landfill operations, and that reduced cost is passed along to county residents. Accepting out-of-county garbage was a decision made by elected officials, and (current officials) could implement a rule tomorrow saying that the landfill will not accept out-of-county refuse. However, residents must understand that the price of bringing garbage to the landfill will go up, because the larger the denominator, the smaller the quotient."
Spanos said that, while accepting out-of-county refuse may have expedited the need to create a new cell at the landfill, the landfill only accepts waste, while human beings as a species create it.
"The less volume you have, the later that an expansion would be needed," Spanos said. "If we decided today that we will no longer generate garbage, the landfill would not be needed. I don't really take the criticism as a landfill, I take it more as a human being - that I create garbage. And we do our best to educate the public on ways to generate less garbage."
Spanos used plastic bags at the grocery store as an example of garbage that does not need to be generated.
"At Sam's Club, when you are checking out, the cashier takes your merchandise out of your cart and puts it in another cart," Spanos said. "Then you take that cart to your car, and you put your merchandise in your car. There are no bags. But if you go to the supermarket, every product gets placed in a grocery bag. Some people bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and that is a great alternative. However, most that do not get their groceries in plastic bags, because it is more convenient than having to load them into the car individually. Those bags need to be disposed of somewhere. The landfill is a result of us."
However, for the garbage that the county does produce, a centralized, regulated landfill is the most efficient place for it to be disposed, and accepting roughly 300 tons of refuse a day from out-of-county municipalities helps to keep the price of disposal down for county residents, all the while still conforming to maximum daily tonnage requirements established by the DEC, according to Spanos. Nonetheless, Spanos understands why Ellery residents and officials don't want to see the landfill expand.
"I understand how all of this can cause anxiety for the town of Ellery," Spanos said. "I am a resident of the town of Ellery, and the town of Ellery officials are doing what they are supposed to be doing: looking after the interests of the residents of the town of Ellery. However, we did establish a task force at one point, because of (Ellery's) concerns. We went through the process for one year, and the task force, which was comprised of residents from the town of Ellery and the county, decided that there was no need to meet anymore, because all of the issues have been addressed."
Spanos concluded by stating that all of the money which is generated by accepting out-of-county refuse is put into the county's general fund, which helps to reduce taxes and fund public projects in Chautauqua County.
"I would be remiss if I didn't say it," Spanos said. "The landfill is based on fee, so there is no taxpayer money going into the landfill. In addition, the legislature made the decision two years ago to take all of the money that came from out of county, which I believe is over $1.5 million, and put it into the county's general fund. And that is in addition to the millions of dollars that the taxpayers have benefited from the (landfill generated methane) electric plant."
"We take a lot of pride in what we do," Stock said. "We work very hard, and we're very proud of our facility. We understand the town has its job to do, but we're very proud of this facility. We really try hard to be the best neighbor we can be."
ELECTED COUNTY OFFICIALS WEIGH IN
The Post-Journal contacted two county officials - county Executive Greg Edwards and county Legislator Vince Horrigan - and asked for their thoughts and opinions on the proposed 2017 Chautauqua County Landfill expansion, and how it might impact both residents of the town of Ellery and the rest of Chautauqua County.
"In response to concerns of Ellery, I took the initiative to have five public forums on the landfill to address some of the issues such as traffic, litter and sedimentation, as well as other items," Horrigan said. "Through those five public forums in 2012, we felt like we were able to address the concerns of the residents. The town has now hired an engineering firm and is conducting a survey to generate town residents' opinions, and I support that. It's good to get the input of residents who perhaps could not attend those forums, because the landfill is a very important operation for the county and Ellery."
Horrigan said that it is important to him to know what is on people's minds, to determine the perceived impact a landfill expansion would have upon residents' lives.
"It's about three or four years before we will need that expansion, but obviously preparations will need to be made before the expansion can take place," Horrigan said. "It's early in the process for me to say, as a county legislator, can there be a compromise, or what should we do, but I am committed to work with the town and the residents to ensure that their concerns and issues are addressed, and to determine the best possible landfill operations for the citizens of Chautauqua County."
"While I understand the concerns of the town of Ellery, Chautauqua County accepted full responsibility for the landfill obligations of the county many years ago under a master plan that was designed by professionals with significant community support," Edwards said. "This eliminated a dozen or more town dumps and replaced it with a professionally designed, professionally run and managed operation. That was the right move back then, it has consistently been the right move over the course of years, it is an excellent facility that is in compliance with every single one of the DEC regulations, and it provides a tremendous service to the businesses and residents of Chautauqua County. Our rates are substantially less than other landfills providing the same services, because we're not trying to run the landfill for a profit. At the same time, we've been able to take the landfill and trade $1 million worth of profit just from the methane that is generated at the landfill. Doing this reduces the tax load on everyone in Chautauqua County."