Landfill Dispute Sheds Light on Environmental Issues

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Contributing Writer
Stephanie McCraw

Earth Day 2019

Earth Day is a day of action that started in April 1970 as a protest against industrial giants who were using land and resources for profit, stripping natural value from the earth and not being held accountable. Issues like smog and pollution were linked to health issues and could no longer be ignored. Another facet of Earth Day is: Trash. Waste. Refuse. In one estimate a person creates four pounds of trash per day.

The day is now a global event meant to inspire action from everyone: kids in classrooms to political leaders to local courts and community groups. One thing is certain, it’s so much more than a cute day to plant a tree (although that’s a great thing). Undoing damage from carbon emissions is complicated, as it’s caused by our way of life for the past 150 years. The struggle between companies who see land for profit, vs the people whose quality of life is directly correlated to the the quality of the land, hits close to home in the debate over an expanded landfill in the Town of Carroll.

Town of Carroll vs. Sealand Waste

Polly Hanson is the leader of a group dedicated to making informed decisions for their community called the Carroll Concerned Citizens. Of the ongoing dispute with the Town of Carroll and Sealand Waste, LLC. she says, “Why don’t we value our land as much as they do? Why aren’t we doing more to preserve our land? They want to buy it and ruin it.”

In 2015 The Town of Carroll won a legal battle against Sealand Waste, LLC. to prohibit the company from expanding the Jones-Carroll landfill located on Dodge Road. Even after the issue seemed put to rest, the waste company started another campaign for the landfill in 2017. Sealand Waste is based near Rochester, NY. Their initial proposal dates to 2004. Their tactic is to try and overturn local laws that ban new waste management facilities, citing a vested interest in the land.

The landfill plans to be designated as “construction and demolition,” which is big part of the problem. Hanson says this type of material is non-putrescible, meaning it will not rot. For members of the group and other locals there are no “benefits” from the project that outweigh the far-reaching consequences of soil, water, and air pollution.

Sealand promises about 15 full time jobs, but the facility would require trucks that would disrupt the country roads. “Truck traffic would converge at the site daily with one truck every three minutes and they’d be coming from 200 miles around” said Hanson.

It’s not only New York that would be affected; the location also borders Pennsylvania. Supervisor Doug Smith of Pine Grove Township, PA recently expressed his concerns. “We are in the process of Posting and Bonding our Township roadways that could be used as possible egress and regress routes to and from the proposed landfill site…in an effort to keep the area in question free from the harsh and potentially devastating impact that this landfill would have on our area.”

Sealand Waste is interested in the site for some obvious reasons. According to Hanson, “It was already a small landfill. There isn’t much population. It’s the corner of town, the corner of the county, and the corner of the state.” That makes prime real estate for the multi-million-dollar company. Russell Payne is a member of the Carroll Concerned Citizens group. He said, “I assume the company is interested because the land is so far out, and a lot of landfill developers pick a spot out of sight, out of mind, for them.”

All About Location

What makes the seemingly perfect location for a waste management facility also makes the perfect location for agricultural land, the Storehouse Run trout spawning stream, other wildlife and vegetation, and the beloved Martz Observatory. These are the very treasures that initiatives like Earth Day hope to protect.

Located about a mile from the proposed site, the Observatory is a non- profit dedicated to amateur astronomers. Walt Pickut, Editor for the Jamestown Gazette and enthusiast for Martz Observatory, said “We can always find a different location for a landfill. But not so for the Observatory.” He listed the detrimental effects of dust and debris from the truck traffic. The dust would make it difficult to see the starry skies and would settle on the telescope mirrors. The Observatory is located downwind from the landfill site.
“The materials brought in will have been pulverized into small debris, and not always in covered trucks.” Said Hanson.

Anatomy of a Landfill

According to their website, what SW offers is a “premier solid waste management facility, complete with composting, recycling, energy recovery and land disposal services.” What they don’t mention are all the environmental factors that need to be considered when placing a landfill. The reason people are upset, especially those living in the beautiful countryside near or on Dodge Road, is because the plan is more for profit than necessity. Says Hanson, “The county already has a designated landfill and it’s not filled to capacity.”

Even if an area seems suitable, “Factors that should be considered are topographic relief or characteristics, location of the water table, amount of precipitation, type of rock and/or soil” said Russell Payne. The area on Dodge Road is about 33% gravel soil according to a recent soil survey.

Newer landfills typically contain a thick, durable liner to keep trash from touching the soil. Inevitably, degradations to the material happen over time and cause leakage. Modern systems attempt to keep as much liquid as possible out to avoid a potentially toxic byproduct of waste and water called “leachate.” Leachate is an acidic substance formed when water trickles through the cells in a landfill and mixes with the various compounds found in the trash cells.

Collection systems are put in place to help divert the leachate to an area near the landfill where it can be tested and then treated like wastewater. Even with improvements, it’s impossible to stop leachate from forming, and groundwater is continually checked for rising acidity which would indicate leakage. How and where to treat the specific wastewater is also a problem.

The three-acre Jones-Carroll Landfill already had leakage into the water table, so it can be assumed that leakage would occur to a greater extent if the landfill expands to over 40 acres.

“All Landfills Leak”- The Rallying Cry of Carroll Concerned Citizens
Leachate finds its way, even if slowly, into water systems. There are different types of leachate, but it’s still a problem.

“There’s simply no such thing as a safe landfill. No matter how many barriers, liners, and pipes we install to try to mitigate the risk, landfills will always leak toxic chemicals into the soil and water.” This is a summary from the Conservation Law Foundation (www.clf.org) about the challenge of modern waste facilities to create a perfectly “safe” landfill. It simply isn’t possible. It’s not to say that landfills are unregulated dump sites, but the system of dealing with waste by forcing it into concentrated areas in the ground is not going to be sustainable. It’s at least not going to be without environmental consequences, especially if the location is not considered suitable.

The Town of Carroll has found legal favor in the past and has good reasons to keep a landfill expansion project out. The Municipal Home Rule Law also gives them the right to self-determine. “We still don’t want them here” Said Hanson.

Small Groups Count

Even though Earth Day has become a global effort, it is often the small and persistent group of citizens leading the fight for lasting change in our communities. Polly Hanson knows this very well, and her tagline is “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead

Readers are encouraged to research landfills and their effects, as well as Zero Waste initiatives that cut down the amount of refuse that ends up in a waste management facility. When Sealand started the dispute again in 2017 Polly Hanson quickly constructed a new website to keep residents informed. http://carrollconcerned.org