Scott Osur, a resident of Colonie, gives his support on the landfill agreement at the public hearing on Thursday, July 28.
The Colonie Town Board passed a resolution Thursday, July 28, to award the contract for an operational agreement for the town’s landfill to Waste Connections, Inc.
After three hours of hearing from Colonie residents and some of their Halfmoon neighbors, the board finally voted 6-to-1 for the resolution. The conversation on Thursday strayed from previous discussions of dumping rates and the possibility of an expansion to the odor emitted from the landfill. Halfmoon Supervisor Mindy Wormuth joined several residents in expressing a concern with the environmental impact of having a large company like Waste Connections come in and manage the landfill. Their main concern was that if it were to expand or increase the amount of airspace consumed, that would mean a more potent smell of garbage would waft over into Halfmoon.
“The landfill’s possible expansion is a regional issue, not a local issue,” said Henrietta O’Grady, a resident of Halfmoon. “There is a large suburban population that is directly impacted. When the south winds go, we receive whatever odors are emitted from the landfill.”
Jeanne Warzek, another resident of Halfmoon, said residents of Colonie won’t have to deal with the smell as much as Halfmoon residents do.
“There was no consulting with the Town of Halfmoon in any way,” she said, “This will probably affect us more than any of the residents of Colonie.”
Colonie Supervisor Paula Mahan pointed out that the town has always had the option to expand the landfill, even before the Waste Connections Deal was struck.
“The potential has always been there,” she said. “The town could ask to expand the landfill. I do know the town, in the past, has increased tonnage. We also bought land with the intent to provide the option for the future if we wanted to act on those [cells].”
She went on to say that she hopes to keep up a good working relationship with the town of Halfmoon with an open flow of information between the two towns.
Tom Nicotera, a resident of Colonie, asked whether the town was requiring Waste Connections to use any specific technology to control the odor. Town Attorney Mike Magguilli said there is nothing in the contract that would require them to use any specific technology but added that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation requires them to control the odor.
“There is nothing to require them to acquire new technology,” he said. “We don’t know what new ones are out there so we can’t require them to get them because we don’t know how to do it. We believe they would just do it on their own.
Matt McGarry, director of the town’s landfill, said there weren’t any current citations for odor at the town’s landfill.
“I think it’s just going to be a short-term solution that within a few years, you’re going to see without other structural changes included in the budget, the town will be back in a deficit situation,” he said. “They need to look at the overall budget of the town and address the structural imbalance.”
At the public hearing, it was noted that even in a worst-case scenario situation, Colonie is guaranteed to receive $85.9 million from the landfill deal. Magguilli said that number was not contingent on anything once the contract is executed. He said, though, that the $100 million in his mind was a low-ball number.
“I think the $100 million is a conservative figure based on how I looked at the contract,” he said.
Republican Town Board member Dan Dustin, who voted against the resolution, said he believes the town will actually be $44 million in the hole if this deal goes though. He said to figure that out, you must take the current costs the town pays and project them out over 23 years. One thing to look at, he said, is the $25 million the town must pay for outstanding landfill bonds, which were used to develop new cells and buy equipment for the landfill. He also said the town must take retirement, salary and fringe benefits and post-employment costs into account, which he said would equal $50.6 million over 23 years.
Other town officials disputed that number, saying it assumes there would be no retirements, in which the town would cut positions through attrition.
Dustin also said the town must take the $3.1 million the town has transferred from the landfill’s income to the general fund to offset general operating costs. Project that out 23 years, he said, the town would be paying $71.3 million.
There were also questions as to what would happen if the company were to go bankrupt. Magguilli said that a third-party surrogate would have to step in and complete not only the payments that are due to the town but also complete the performance at the landfill.
Dustin said he was concerned with a part of the contract – Section 24 – that does not stipulate there is a partnership between the town and Waste Connections, rather that it is two separate entities entering into an agreement.
“That’s true,” said Magguilli. “This is no partnership or joint venture. It is expressly understood that you cannot constitute the town as a partner of the company’s business or joint venture. This is a limit in liability for the town. … We won’t be held liable for any accidents.”
There were several residents there to support the town’s venture into an operational agreement with Waste Connections. One was Scott Osur, a resident of Colonie, who said his concern as a taxpayer was watching them go up each year in terms of property taxes.
“I’m in favor of proposals and plans that bring in extra income from other sources other than just taxpayers,” he said. “I see it as a proposal to bring in extra income.”
Brian Haak, former Montgomery County Supervisor, said he was once involved in the sale of the county’s nursing home and added that he understands the process and work that goes into a proposal similar to the deal with the landfill. He said after hearing the town’s presentation of the deal, he’s convinced the town knows what it’s doing.
“It’s difficult when you’re working in situations like this,” he said. “It sometimes hamstrings what a public body can do. I, for one, place faith in you and support this proposal.
Once the vote was finished and the board took a break, Republican candidates for positions in the town left the meeting. Colonie Resident Bob Ekstrom Jr., who said he is a registered Republican, was upset to watch them walk out.
“None of the candidates stayed,” he said. “I’ve come to every meeting since the Democrats took over because I like to stay informed. I think they’ve done a good job. … We’ve never seen Denise Sheehan here once. It’s sad. … Be here for us and don’t play games.”
Department of Public Works Commissioner Jack Cunningham said the town will now finish negotiations with Waste Connections and will start a transitioning period where the town will be moving its equipment out of the landfill facility and into storage nearby so Waste Connections can move in. There will also be a 30-day period until the contract is fully executed.