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Now with less stench: Albany’s landfill.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

The Smell That Isn’t There

After many years, the stench at Albany landfill seems to have abated


For what some say has been 10 years, residents who live near Albany’s Pine Bush preserve have breathed in a stench that brought to mind road kill or burning urine. However, according to local residents and representatives of Albany, the odor has become much less intrusive.

Colonie Mayor Frank Leak, whose constituents who live near the facility have been complaining about the smell for years, said that thanks to a new, temporary, black-plastic layer that has been placed over the landfill and a system that more effectively burns off gas inside the landfill, the smell is now much less pungent.

“For years it was real bad. It was like rotten eggs,” Leak said. “This year we had a lot of warm nights, but there was no smell at all.”

Leak also pointed out that a hotline established by Albany to handle complaints about the landfill has received a shrinking number of calls since May.

“The calls are coming down,” he said. “It is much less every month. Last month, they were down to only about three during the day.”

Chris Hawver, executive director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, said the smell is no longer noticeable from his office or during his drive to work.

However, Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) insisted that the hotline was not properly publicized, thereby making it impossible for everyone who might want to complain to do so. The number was given out at neighborhood meetings at the Polish Community Center, but it has not been posted on the city’s landfill Web site or elsewhere.

“I think they should have publicized that they have a hotline,” said Calsolaro. “They’ve gotta put it out there for people. I know people driving by may smell it and may want to complain, but they don’t have the number.”

Calsolaro acknowledged that he has noticed that the smell in the area is not as overwhelming as it once was, but said that it is still fairly constant. And he said that the city is touting a reduced number of complaints when in fact only a small number of people have the ability to complain in the first place. He noted that the city has, in the past, acted on landfill concerns without alerting the public or seeking input.

General Services Commissioner Willard Bruce said that Calsolaro is dead wrong.

“We put it [the hotline number] in a newsletter that went out to over 3,000 businesses. I don’t know where he is coming off on this,” said Bruce, who also noted that residents of nearby Avila Retirement Community were informed and Leak also told his constituents of the hotline.

According to Calsolaro, the city is trying to put on a happy face regarding the landfill because of an application for a landfill expansion that the state Department of Environmental Conservation will soon have to review. Last year, the DEC fined Albany for the stench, and the city is in no position to have its application to expand rejected.

Lynne Jackson of Save the Pine Bush said she finds it odd that after years of hearing complaints about the stench the city would choose to take the problem seriously only in the last few months. Jackson pointed to a meeting in February of this year that was overseen by DEC officer Bill Clark at which more than 200 residents showed up and complained about the smell.

“I find it very interesting that the city had a very severe odor problem for years,” she said, “and only after the draft-scoping session where over 200 people showed up and almost all of them complained about the smell, did they really take care of it.”

Bruce disputed that the smell has been a problem for any longer than three years, and said it is a problem the city has been trying to manage since it started.

“When we had meetings with residents on the odors, we had people who lived around there for 15 years who didn’t know there was a landfill there until three years ago,” he said. “It has been an on-and-off problem for three years, and it has been much worse for the past year.”

Hawver said that, for whatever reason, the city has been paying more attention to the Pine Bush and how the landfill is perceived in general. “They are applying for an expansion, and I would assume it is in their best interest to be in compliance with their current landfill.”

The number for the landfill-complaint hotline is 453-8288.

—David King

What a Week

Truth Nine Months Later

Remember when former Congressman John Sweeney said that he didn’t hit his wife? Or when his wife, Gayle, accused her husband’s congressional challenger of releasing false documents to smear her family’s name? Turns out that they were both lying! This week, Gayle Sweeney, who faces a restraining order from her husband and is involved in divorce proceedings, told the Times Union that Sweeney and his handlers intimidated her into lying about a domestic-violence incident. A day later, Sweeney admitted he had also lied about the dispute.

Steamroller in Reverse

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo released a report this week concluding that top aides of Gov. Eliot Spitzer misused state police to document the travels of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick). Spitzer reacted by suspending one aide and demoting the other. Bruno, who currently is facing a number of investigations of his own, responded tersely to an apology made by Spitzer this week. Bruno insisted he would “review the report’s disturbing conclusions.” Insiders find it humorous that Bruno, who is known to play fast and loose with the rules, turned the tables on the sputtering steamroller.

Freezing Due Process

Apparently the Fifth Amendment was getting in the way of progress in Iraq. So President George Bush signed into law the “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq” executive order. This draconian move allows the government to freeze the assets of anyone it suspects of “undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq.” How broadly this language can be applied is the topic of fierce debate. Many in the legal field fear this new power will be used to undermine the Fifth Amendment’s protection against seizure of property without due process.

A Kindler, Gentler Torture

In an apparent effort to define what is and is not torture, President Bush signed an executive order last week prohibiting, among other things, “sexual assault or abuse” when interrogating prisoners. Though we aren’t exactly clear on what sort of interrogation tactics the president is banning—information about CIA tactics is classified—we are hoping that this now legally forbids all forms of naked-man pyramids.

Saving the Farm

A local organization secures state and national money to help keep a dairy in business

Bob Weir has been farming the same two plots of land all of his life. His father bought the 276-acre plot of land outside of Mechanicville in 1952, and steadily grew the family’s successful dairy farm there. The Weir family has been renting the adjacent 52-acre plot for decades as well, which they use to grow the corn and alfalfa that they feed to their cows.

“It’s a beautiful piece of farmland,” said Teri Ptacek, the executive director of Agricultural Stewardship Association. ASA is one of the few locally based land-trust organizations that focuses specifically on agricultural lands. “It has 15- to 18-foot- thick prime soils. You find these kinds of soils in the Pioneer Valley, or Long Island, or the Midwest. It’s a rarity to find that kind of land in the area.”

Four years ago, Weir found out that his neighbor planned on selling the 52-acre parcel to a developer who intended to build eight houses on it. This plan would have been ruinous for Weir.

“This not only would have put an end to Bob’s ability to use these productive soils for his dairy operation, but also would have completely destroyed the ability of his dairy to remain in business because it would have put neighbors right up to his farmstead,” Ptacek said. Weir’s barn is situated very near the 52-acre parcel.

“It would have been an end to his dairy farm,” she said.

Unable to purchase the land outright, Weir sought out help, which led him to ASA. ASA applied for funding from the state and federal government to purchase the development rights on Weir’s farm as well as the development rights for his neighbor’s 52-acre parcel. Weir was then able to use the proceeds from the sale to purchase his neighbor’s land.

“It was a wonderful way to make sure that farmland, which should never be anything other than farmland—it should never be cement—remains farmland,” Ptacek said.

ASA has protected 7,000 acres of farmland in New York, mostly in Washington County. Much of this land is through donated easements, but the organization also has used state and federal money to buy the development rights. This is the first time ASA has used state and federal funding to save land in Rensselaer County. But it won’t be the last time. In 2006, ASA received two more grants to secure land in Rensselaer. The grants are for 690 acres in Schaghticoke and 540 acres in Petersburg.

“Rensselaer County is at a place right now, where we have to take action before we lose our farmers and our farm base,” Ptacek said. “Once you get below certain critical point, it is very hard to retain the kind of farming that really drives the rural economy.”

—Chet Hardin

To Educate or Intimidate?

National anti-abortion organization targets local businesses for their charitable donations to Planned Parenthood

Twenty-five businesses in the Capital Region, many along Lark Street in Albany, received ominous letters last month from Life Decisions International, a national anti-abortion organization based in Washington, D.C. These local businesses were informed that Life Decisions was not only aware that they had donated money to Planned Parenthood, but were given an ultimatum: Either quit giving money to the pro-abortion-rights organization or be put on a list circulated to anti-abortion activists.

“We appeal to you to make Planned Parenthood ineligible for future support of any kind,” the letter reads. “If you are unwilling . . . [your business] will be placed on a list of the group’s advocates. . . . Businesses identified as Planned Parenthood supporters may also be targeted for picketing and other legal activities.”

“There are two reasons people donate to Planned Parenthood,” said Doug Scott, president of Life Decisions International. “One is that they know what they do, and they support what they do. The other one is just ignorance. They have no idea what they [Planned Parenthood] stands for or what programs they do. That’s why when we send out this information—we aren’t trying to threaten, we are trying to educate.”

Once an organization is “educated,” Scott continued, then that organization must be held accountable for its decision whether or not to further support the pro-choice organization.

“I think it is impossible to give to an organization like Planned Parenthood and then claim that you don’t support what they do,” Scott said. “If I give money to the NAACP and I am a member of the Ku Klux Klan, how am I going to explain that to my comrades? If I am with the NAACP and I give money to the Klan, then I am sorry, but I am supporting what they do.”

“I think it is clearly an attempt to intimidate,” countered Blue Carreker, of Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, dismissing Scott’s claims that his group is seeking to educate.

“Businesses that are targeted [by Life Decisions] are listed in our annual report as having contributed to us,” she said. “If they made the decision to contribute to us, usually they are pretty comfortable with who we are and what we are doing.”

Planned Parenthood, a nationwide “health-care advocate and provider,” is at the forefront of the highly contentious battle over a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

The data collected by Life Decisions is received by a million people around the country, Scott said, and the organizing power of these people have brought massive companies, such as AT&T and Target, into compliance with their anti-Planned Parenthood agenda. Anti-abortion advocates engage in activities such as boycotts and protests of targeted businesses. In all, Life Decisions claims to have helped force 153 national companies to stop giving to Planned Parenthood.

“AT&T had given $50,000 a year for 25 years to Planned Parenthood,” Scott said, until they were pressured into ceasing. “It depends on the area, and how active of a group there is in the area, but there are instances of people setting up local pickets based on our information. It is a decision made on the local level. It is not something that we organize, but we do encourage that.”

Carreker said that although she has heard from many of these 25 local businesses contacted by Life Decisions, she is not aware of any who have been cowed by the pressure. She added that the response to letters has ranged from frustration to anger to humor.

“I know that we don’t find it humorous,” she said. “There is a history there of claiming some pretty outrageous things about Planned Parenthood. I think media attention gives [Life Decisions] more credit than they deserve. They are a fringe group. Their impact is almost nothing.”

—Chet Hardin

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Cleaning House

The Troy Food Co-op, according to its board of directors, is still a few months away from a planned opening in October. In the meantime, volunteers are keeping themselves busy spreading the word, looking for members, and cleaning out the former Pioneer Market at 77-81 Congress St. This Friday (June 30), the co-op hosted a flea market to sell off all of the clothes, records, and other assorted knick-knacks in the backrooms and basement.

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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