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October 19, 2006

A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

October 22, 2006

Please Bring Us Your Garbage

A corporate trash hauler dictates City policy to Mayor Jennings

Sunday morning The Wife jumped out of bed at the crack of dawn... a little after eight, actually... and ran to the front door like it was Christmas. She shuffled back slowly into the kitchen reading the Sunday paper. “They put it on the front page,” she said, voice filled with awe. “On top, above the fold.”

She was referring to the garbage expose. We’ve finally learned the sad, sordid truth about The Dump, officially called the Albany City “Landfill” off Rapp Road in the Pine Bush. All of our suspicions about greed and mismanagement have turned out to be true. And once again, it has been proven that in government, secrecy equals corruption.

City officials would have you believe that giant, stinking mountain range of garbage that towers over the Thruway by Exit 24 comes out of Albany households, that it is composed of our chicken bones, plastic bags, kitty litter and such. But in truth, less than a tenth of that mountain range of waste comes from Albany kitchens and wastebaskets. The rest of that pile is imported. At a serious discount.

The Dump
Active Part Of The Dump

It appears that last year one of the biggest international garbage corporations, Allied Waste Industries, slammed Jerry Jennings against the wall and told him what they wanted out of him. They wanted to dump more garbage in the Pine Bush than anyone had ever dumped before. And they wanted to dump garbage at a deep discount, half of what most everyone else paid.

Jennings gulped like a cartoon duck and did exactly as he was told. Why?

It seems that we do NOT have a shortage of landfill space in this country, or even in the Capital Region. As the Mail and Jobs Coalition explains, we actually have TOO MUCH:

Our landfill supply is not merely sufficient, we have a nationwide glut. While the number of landfills has declined, the measure that counts -- landfill capacity -- has increased enormously.

Not only do we have a growing volume of landfill capacity, landfill use has also declined because we are increasingly better at recycling and recovery. The result is that landfill costs have failed to keep pace with inflation. This is the best possible evidence that a landfill shortage does not exist and it's also good news for local homeowners: If there really was a landfill shortage local property taxes would soar.

And to drive the point home, Mail and Jobs quotes from the Allied Waste Industries annual report for 2004:

"We have a network of 166 owned or operated active landfills with operating lives ranging from 1 to over 150 years. Based on available capacity using annual volumes, the average life of our landfills approximates 36 years."

Get it? Allied doesn’t need the Albany City Dump, nor does Waste Management or any of the other garbage corporations. But Jerry Jennings desperately needs their garbage. Because of poor management on his part, ten percent of the City budget is dependent upon Dump revenues.

Allied read Jennings like a book and played him like a piano. Because Jennings operates City finances in near-total secrecy, he had to stand alone against Allied when they decided to shake him down. They saw that he had no one to turn to for help with these negotiations. And he had no where to turn for alternative means of revenue.

So Jennings had no choice but to start doing the bidding of his new corporate masters. He told the City taxpayers that we are running out of landfill space. He told us that we need to sacrifice Pine Bush Preserve because we all throw out too many uneaten dinners and banana peels. He told us that there is no alternative.

He is now on his third attempt to destroy Pine Bush. And he is still trying to open a dump in Coeymans alongside the Hudson River, having sacrificed over five million dollars of taxpayer funds for that purpose. So far. There will be millions more.

And now he has budgeted nine million dollars to expand the City Dump into the Pine Bush. This is starting to cancel out the revenues. Doesn’t it look like this whole dumping garbage business isn’t as profitable for the City as advertised?

The Wife walks the loop road around The Dump
The Wife walks the loop road around The Dump

As for The Wife, she had been contacted in the middle of last week about the expose by Brian Nearing of the Hearst Times Union. Brian was looking for quotes from The Wife for the article ("We have been betrayed,” she told him) and he swore her to secrecy until the article came out on Sunday. “And tell your husband not to put it on his blog,” he made sure to add.

For the rest of the week The Wife was jumping up and down. She told just about everyone to make sure and and get a copy of the Sunday Hearst Rag. And she told everyone who cared about The Dump to get ready for action, because the garbage has finally hit the fan in a big way.

Brian proves with this great expose that he is indeed a journalist wasting his life as a corporate content provider. Not only did he pore over piles of paper to find this outrage, he actually staked out The Dump for several days. He saw a lot of Allied trucks rumble through the gate.

And he told The Wife that he saw a lot of others trucks, including trucks sporting the name We Care LLC. This turns out to be a company located in a tiny burg called Jordan NY, which is due west of Syracuse along the Thruway. The name on their website is We Care Organics. They call themselves "the northeast's premier supplier of recycled organic residuals."

Despite the name, We Care does not appear to be “organic” in the sense of clean and pure, but more like “carbon based.” Mostly they appear to produce soil from municipal sewage plants. That’s all very good, but there is some nasty stuff that gets skimmed from municipal sewage. I shudder to think what exactly all those trucks are dumping at Rapp Road.

Okay so why did the Times Union managers allow Brian to do this scathing bit of journalism? What is the political advantage to the Hearst Corporation?

Jennings belongs to the Wrong Party, of course, even though he manages finances like the Correct Party does. He even endorses and holds fund raisers for candidates run by the Correct Party, such as Pataki and Sweeney. But the Times Union managers hate his guts. And as long as he is a member of the Wrong Party, the Hearst corporation will not object to their local employees attacking him.

If the article were written in a way that would hurt Allied Waste Industries, they would not have allowed it to run. Rule number one at any corporate media outlet is to never initiate any story that is harmful to a corporation, and only report on harmful stories if forced to by internet reporting.

While the story may eventually affect Allied’s ridiculously deep dumping discount, there really is no harm done to them. They can pull out of the Pine Bush Dump with one second’s notice if they wish. It’s sort of an unexpected extra for their bottom line.

But Jerry Jennings and the City of Albany are a different matter. A few weeks ago Jennings announced a 2007 budget that includes no property tax increase. Meanwhile, the suburbs are all announcing big tax increases, with the biggest increase in towns that are run by the Correct Party. Imagine how this situation must make Times Union boss Rex Smith seethe like a snake.

So now Jennings may have to reassess the budget, which has not yet been ritually adopted by the Common Council. What if there is such an outcry that Jennings has to reveal his nasty financial secrets, not just about The Dump, but about the Water Department and other hotbeds of financial mismanagement? What if the budget is... unreal? Ephemeral? Pure nonsense?

Perhaps Jennings would have to issue a new budget this year with a tax increase, or next year for sure. And he would have to scramble to pick up the mess he's made of the City's finances.

That would certainly make Rex Smith rub his hands together and cackle with glee. Score one for the Hearst Times Union's ongoing suburban war against the City.

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