High in Trash
clock is running out for the city of Albany to figure out
what to do about the dump
Last week it came to light that, at the beginning of March,
both the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental
Protection Agency had sent letters to the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers objecting to Albany’s latest plan to expand the
Rapp Road landfill. The mayor’s office had been banking on
the 13-acre expansion to extend the life of the dump up to
six and a half more years, and failed to make any contingency
plans, his critics say. Currently, it is estimated that the
landfill will be full by November.
are in an emergency now,” said Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward
3). “They have had 12 years to deal with this issue, and instead
of dealing with it, this administration figured they would
get an expansion. They never prepared for the future. That
is the problem with this city: We don’t prepare for the future.
And now we are in a crisis.”
According to Ellis, it should not come as a surprise if the
state Department of Environmental Conservation finally rejects
the city’s current landfill proposal, as the agency lately
hasn’t been approving such expansions.
Ellis is one of the three announced candidates running for
mayor this fall. To council President Shawn Morris, who has
also announced her candidacy, the latest setback further illustrates
the “murky” history of the landfill under Mayor Jerry Jennings.
information, the letters, were circulated among those reviewing
the application, and not with the common council,” Morris
said. “Not even with members of the common council who are
in the appropriate committees. When federal agencies raise
concerns, we need to be aware.”
The proposal for the eastern expansion was shot down by both
federal agencies due to its impact on five acres of fragile
wetland environment. As the EPA letter states, “The applicant
has not chosen the least environmentally damaging practicable
The city argued that the least damaging alternative would
extend the landfill’s life by only about three years. According
to Frank LaVardera, vice president at Clough Harbor &
Associates, as reported in a Times Union article, this
smaller expansion wouldn’t be worth the cost of construction.
that a negotiating point on their part,” Morris asked about
LaVardera’s comment, “or is that real information? How are
the costs amortized out compared to what we would save? All
of that information isn’t even available to us now.”
Is that proposal’s estimated 2.8 year extension to the landfill’s
lifespan calculated using the rate at which the city is filling
it up now? she asked. If so, could the lifespan be extended
if the landfill made cuts to the inflow of trash?
need to be taking steps now to find alternatives, and also
to slow down the rate at which the landfill is being used
up,” Morris said.
But cutting back on the intake of refuse raises a financial
concern: The city relies on the $12 million a year generated
in revenue at the landfill, and whether or not it is still
a possibility to use the landfill as a revenue stream, Morris
continued, she doesn’t know. “Without real numbers, even real
estimates—which we haven’t had—would it really mean financial
ruin for the city if we didn’t expand? If it doesn’t mean
financial ruin, if it is staving something off for a couple
years, then that is a completely different scenario.”
Ellis agreed with Morris. “One thing that I don’t know, because
of the lack of transparency around our budget,” Ellis said,
“is what does it really mean if we don’t expand that landfill?
They say that we will lose money, but because of how the budget
is set up, and how the landfill is operated, we really don’t
know the hit we would take if we don’t expand.”
Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) said that he sees grim
we only get the two-and-a-half-year expansion,” Calsolaro
said, “it is going to hit us at the same time that we lose
seven and a half million dollars in state aid from the convention
center money. In 2011, we drop from 22 and a half to 15 million
from the state.”
If you take the city’s claim that the landfill makes $12 million
a year in revenue, then the city, he said, will be facing
a $20 million deficit.
whoever is mayor for the 2011 budget,” Calsolaro laughed,
“they say $700,000 is 1 percent in taxes, so that is a 30-percent
tax increase alone, just to make up for those two losses.”
He pointed out that this is the first time that the city has
used its financial reliance on the dump’s revenue stream as
a reason to request permission to expand the landfill.
needs to be a sit-down with waste-management companies, with
environmentalists, with the Pine Bush people, and the city
government,” Ellis said. “Now we need to make drastic decisions,
which might not be the best decisions for citizens, might
not be the best decisions environmentally or economically.
It is now something that is hovering over our heads.”
When will the city know whether or not it can expand the landfill?
“We are hoping to hear fairly soon,” said Robert Van Amburgh
from the Albany mayor’s office. “I don’t know if there is
a date established.”
On all other questions for this story, Van Amburgh directed
Metroland to Nick D’Antonio in the Department of General
Services, who did not return calls by press time.
in the Hills
policing will be the first focus of new Pine Hills Public
The Pine Hills Neighborhood Association announced the resurrection
of its Public Safety Committee, with Todd Hunsinger as the
newly appointed chair, in response to a recent rash of violence
in the neighborhood.
think I speak for a lot of Pine Hills residents when I say
that crime is keeping us up at night,” said Hunsinger. “The
concern is that crime in Pine Hills is keeping the residents
up but the chief of police and the mayor aren’t losing sleep
Hunsinger, who got involved with the PHNA at a public-safety
forum this past winter, was approached by the association’s
president, Daniel Curtis, in early March and offered the position.
Hunsinger said that he took the position for “a lot of selfish
reasons” at the meeting last week. “My wife has a realtor
coming tomorrow to appraise the house because she’s saying
‘Enough.’ Personally, I would like to stay.”
Hunsinger, along with many members of the community, are focusing
on the role of police in reducing crime in the neighborhood.
of our big concerns right now is the way policing is done
in this city,” Hunsinger said. “We want to see that change.
It would be nice to see more of a police presence, the term
that a lot of people use is ‘community policing.’ ”
Curtis agrees that community policing is important, but is
just one aspect of improving safety in the area.
no silver bullet here,” Curtis said. “The only thing that
we can do is hope to change attitudes, and we need to change
a whole culture, and changing a culture is going to take more
than one action.”
Hunsinger also acknowledged the larger societal issues at
hear the chief of police talk about how the schools need to
do more and how, as communities, we need to do more in terms
of the lives of these youth, which is certainly all true,”
Hunsinger said. “But the immediate concern is for them to
know that crime sprees are not a career or recreational option,
and that’s only going to come through tougher policing and
better community vigilance.”
When asked if he felt that the drinking culture in Pine Hills
makes the neighborhood a target for crime, Hunsinger said,
“Absolutely. That’s a big part of the issue. Pine Hills has
basically become an importer of crime. Not only do we have
kids on their BMX bikes coming out of West Hill to find easy
prey, but people coming from other communities. The reality
is a bunch of inebriated unsuspecting 21-year-olds stumbling
around the streets become really easy prey.”
Hunsinger said that he and his family originally moved to
Pine Hills to be in a walkable community. “All those positive
attributes of living in Pine Hills are being denied to residents
right now, and I think that’s why people are so frustrated.”
Residents expressed those frustrations at the meeting last
Thursday where four Albany Common Council members, including
James Scalzo, chair of the Public Safety Committee, were present
to answer questions from residents, many of whom expressed
dissatisfaction with the response from the city.
can’t accept that as an answer,” said one resident in response
to Scalzo’s suggestion that residents refer to APD Pine Hills
liaison Rick Romand as an effort to stop crime. “Every single
police officer should respond the best way possible.”
Curtis said that the council members were prepared for tough
questions, and that he felt it was important for them attend
and speak with residents face-to-face.
had one council member [Glen Casey] not even show up for political
reasons,” said Curtis, who felt that Casey did not attend
because he has been criticized by the PHNA. “If you have a
neighborhood association that is frustrated with you as a
leader, then it would seem to me the best thing to do would
be to come out and remind people of all the things you do
in the community.”
Casey did not return a call for comment.
The PHNA Public Safety Committee is still in the development
stages, and is working on recruiting members and meeting with
other committee chairs to determine the best course of action.
just a college biology professor just looking to be a part
of the solution,” Hunsinger said. “I don’t claim to have all
of the answers, but I do claim to have a serious vested interest
in the well-being of my family, including a 5-year-old daughter,
to try to make the neighborhood a neighborhood and not Tuffey’s
crime map. I don’t want to live in a crime map; I want to
live in a community.”
Curtis also said that those interested could contribute by
volunteering with the Midtown Neighborhood Watch. According
to Curtis, some crime experts estimate that 100 to 200 volunteers
are needed to properly patrol the streets; there are currently
less than two dozen.
gift of water delivered thousands of miles away
the first time, the people of Pontsheng village in the Leribe
region of Lesotho, Africa, have access to clean drinking water,
thanks to a PlayPump, an innovative well system that uses
the power of play: Children spinning on a playground merry-go-round
pump clean water from a deep well into a 660-gallon storage
tank. For the 110 adults and 145 children of Pontsheng, the
PlayPump is a life-saving gift, and that gift came from the
Three years ago, Delmar resident Toni McGrath watched a Frontline
report about PlayPumps. From that night on, McGrath was determined
to raise $14,000 here in the Capital Region, enough to completely
fund the construction of a single PlayPump in one community
of sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, Metroland reported
on her efforts to bring PlayPump’s simple solution to the
dire water crisis [“The Gift of Laughter and Water,” Vol.
30, No. 47]. McGrath launched Albany Friends for PlayPumps
to coordinate her fundraising efforts, and by April 2008,
she had raised the full $14,000.
McGrath has been eagerly awaiting word from PlayPumps International
to find out what community her efforts would impact. PlayPumps
International has contacted McGrath with a report and photos
of her PlayPump, now fully functional.
The people of Lesotho, a tiny mountainous kingdom landlocked
by South Africa, are among the poorest in the world. The infant
mortality rate is 10 percent. Due to lack of proper sanitation,
22 percent of deaths in children are from common diarrhea.
A full third of the adult population is infected with HIV,
and the life expectancy recently dropped below 35 years.
Now, according to McGrath, “Our PlayPump will improve hygiene
and health for all the people of Pontsheng village. It is
located near the primary school so children will have access
to clean water and sanitation and that improves school attendance
and retention of students. Women and girls will spend less
time trekking for water. This means the girls will have more
time for school and the women will have more chances to engage
in income-generating activities. Children will be able to
drink clean water, and the chances of getting intestinal diseases
that kill small children and babies will be greatly diminished.
And finally, the children of Pontsheng now have a merry-go-round
in their schoolyard.”
PlayPumps International has stated a goal of installing 4,000
PlayPumps by 2010. If that goal is met, the pumps will be
providing a free, clean, and sustainable drinking supply to
at least 10 million people.
more information, visit playpumps.org.
loose ends this week-