from the Times Union, January 26, 2006
Albany targets barrens again
Jennings says 10 acres dedicated to
Pine Bush are needed for landfill
By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer
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First published: Thursday, January 26, 2006
ALBANY -- The city wants to expand its rapidly filling dump onto
10 acres it had already dedicated to the Pine Bush Preserve.
"We hope that people would be reasonable and know what we are
up against," Mayor Jerry Jennings told the Times Union editorial
board on Wednesday. "I know some people are going to fight us
During his State of the City address last week, Jennings said the
city wants to expand the Rapp Road facility near Thruway Exit 24
into 10 city-owned acres. A decade ago, Albany dedicated that land
as forever-wild to the preserve, which includes about 3,000 acres
in Albany, Colonie and Guilderland.
It would be the first time that the city has sought to remove land
from the preserve since its creation by the state in 1988.
"Taking land from the preserve for a dump sets a terrible precedent," Save
the Pine Bush Secretary Lynne Jackson said Wednesday. "Who is
to say that in another five years, another 10 acres won't be needed,
and then another and another?"
The Pine Bush is one of the largest of about 20 inland pine barrens
worldwide. It was formed toward the end of the last Ice Age 15,000
years ago when a large glacial lake stretched from present day Glens
Falls to Newburgh.
The lake drained and left behind the sandy soils that now support
the scrub pines of the rare ecosystem. Less than a fifth of the original
Pine Bush survives, with the remaining area divided by highways,
shopping malls and industrial parks.
Jennings is turning to the 10-acre patch of preserve land because
the Rapp Road dump will be full in four years, long before a proposed
new city-owned regional dump in Coeymans could be opened. But that
plan is facing delays linked to wetlands on the 363-acre parcel as
well as legal challenges by local opponents.
Chris Hawver, executive director of the Pine Bush Preserve Commission,
said, "This is a precedent that we don't want to see happen," he
said. "The city needs to look at other alternatives."
Jennings said the city could give the commission money to buy other
land in the Pine Bush to offset the 10 acres that could be lost.
Last week the city dropped its plan to expand the dump into 20 acres
at the Fox Run Estates trailer park after Save the Pine Bush sued
because the city had promised in 2000 to donate the land to the preserve.
The city earns about $13 million a year -- a tenth of its annual
budget -- by taking trash from private haulers and the communities
in the ANSWERS consortium that includes Cohoes, Rensselaer, Watervliet,
Berne, Bethlehem, Guilderland, Knox, New Scotland, Rensselaerville,
Westerlo, Green Island and Altamont.
Albany cannot afford to slow down the flow of trash, which would
extend the life of the dump, Jennings said. "It is a financial
situation for us," he said.
When the city expanded the landfill in 2000, it was projected to
last for 15 years. However, because the city is taking in nearly
as much trash as allowed under its state permit, the expansion will
be filled by 2010.
Without a place to put its garbage, the city would be forced to
pay to haul it away, Jennings said. That expense, coupled with the
revenue loss, could force massive property tax increases and city
worker layoffs, he warned.
Removing land from the preserve -- a process called alienation --
requires state legislative approval. Assemblyman Jack McEneney said
Jennings has approached him about sponsoring such a bill.
"This is a battle that has to be fought in the Common Council," said
McEneney, an Albany Democrat. "This is a local matter and will
require a home-rule message from the council."
There appeared to be some division on the 15-member council over
the idea of sacrificing Pine Bush Preserve acres.
"There seems to be an air of inevitability about this," said
Common Council President Shawn Morris. "This is the largest
opportunity available to the city at this time."
However, she added, the dump squeeze "opens the door for the
big discussion of the future of the landfill and the city's dependency
on revenue from the landfill."
Council member Dominick Calsolaro said Jennings must work with the
council to find a solution to the garbage issues and questioned whether
the preserve should be reduced. "We need a better dialogue on
this," Calsolaro said.
Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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