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Time for action: Marriage-equality supporters demonstrate at the Capitol.

Photo: Kathryn Geurin

Day of Indecision

After a hopeful week, it’s back to the waiting game for marriage-equality advocates

Monday night, marriage-equality supporters gathered on the steps of the State Capitol for a candlelight vigil—one of many such demonstrations being held around the state on the eve of the anticipated “Day of Decision.” After being stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee for months, the Marriage Equality Bill (S. 4401) was finally on the agenda for the special legislative session being held the next morning. Supporters bearing candles and banners cheered the evening’s hopeful messages, and chanted rallying cries of “What do we want? Marriage Equality! When do we want it? Tomorrow!”

The bill, which would legalize same-sex marriage as a civil institution in New York state, passed in the Assembly this May with a bipartisan vote of 84 to 61 and has the support of Gov. David Paterson, who last week issued a proclamation calling for an extraordinary session of Legislature.

Marriage-equality advocates, who contributed more than $1 million in 2008 to help state Democrats take the Senate majority, have mounted an all-out lobbying effort in recent months, which culminated in this week’s actions at the Capitol.

Despite their efforts, tempers flared outside the Senate chamber as Tuesday’s session wore on with no sign of action on the bill. Senators hustled through throngs of demonstrators from around the state, whose cries of “We deserve a vote!” appeared to fall on deaf ears.

Citing weakened support for the legislation, Senate leaders and bill supporters again elected to table the bill. Thirty-two votes are needed to pass the legislation, and the bill does not have the blanket support of the slim, 32-member Democratic majority.

Support for the legislation has declined since Maine’s same-sex marriage law was repealed by referendum on Nov. 3. With only 20 to 25 yes votes currently estimated from Senate Democrats, proponents of the legislation doubt there are enough Republican votes to make up the necessary difference.

Insiders speculate that some Republicans are using their votes on the issue to gain desired budgetary concessions by Democratic opponents, and anticipate that support for the bill will shift after fiscal debates are resolved in the Senate.

Meanwhile, marriage-equality supporters remain frustrated by the continued inaction. In an official statement from the New York Civil Liberties Union, executive director Donna Lieberman declared: “The senators missed an opportunity to make history and embrace fairness for all New York families. Marriage is a defining civil rights issue of our day . . . and the time for our senators to stop the political maneuvering and lay their cards on the table is long overdue.”

In a statement made Monday before the special session, Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle insisted that marriage equality “should not be a partisan matter. It should be a vote of conscience that occurs as soon as possible.”

However, the bill’s original author, Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), has advocated holding off on the vote until supporters can be confident of a win and not just a symbolic victory.

Following Tuesday’s setback, representatives from the Pride Agenda were unavailable for comment.

At a press conference Tuesday evening, Paterson stated that he would again put the bill on the agenda for the additional special sessions he has called for next week. He added, significantly, that “marriage equality will be debated on the floor of the New York State Senate at a date not certain, between now and the end of the year.”

Following negotiations with the Senate’s top leaders, Paterson said, a commitment had been reached to bring it to vote before year’s end, and that “they will stand behind this commitment.”

Paterson’s statement is far from satisifying for Ron Zacchi, executive director of Marriage Equality New York, which was a significant force in organizing the week’s demonstrations. “The Senate has failed New Yorkers again,” he said. “Giving us a timeline was a very nice gesture, but what’s to hold them to that timeline?”

Zacchi encouraged marriage-equality supporters to reach out to their senators and Senate leadership to demand a vote. Marriage Equality New York is planning further demonstrations at the Capitol during next week’s extroidinary session.

“This legislation has been pending for over five years,” said Zacchi. “We shouldn’t have to wait another day.”

—Kathryn Geurin

We Come Bearing Garbage

Waste Management seeks to accept household trash at its South End transfer station

On Thursday, May 5, a small group of South End residents turned out for an informational public meeting to address a request before the state Department of Conservation that could result in tons of raw garbage getting trucked daily into their community.

Waste Management, the largest garbage hauler in the United States, currently has a request before the DEC to modify the permit for its Church Street station, which, if approved, would allow the hauler to accept municipal solid waste (MSW), essentially household trash. Since the South End is in a DEC Environmental Justice Area, WM was required to hold this meeting in order to complete its application process with the state.

Though the group of residents was small, they were vocal, well-informed, and aggressive. Also present were Ward 1 Councilman Dominick Calsolaro and Ward 2 Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin.

WM currently hauls 250 tons of dry waste, construction debris and such, into its South End transfer station daily. There, the waste is processed and shipped out to a range of sites, including local landfills as well as WM landfills. The company also trucks waste to the Wheelabrator incinerator in Hudson Falls, which WM owns.

According to WM’s current permit with the DEC, the company is allowed to process 749 tons of waste at its South End transfer station daily—only 300 tons less than the Rapp Road landfill is permitted to accept. Although the company could take in nearly 500 tons more dry waste a day at its facility, its executives claim that they will be processing upwards of only 100 tons of MSW.

The first time the company sought to modify its permit with the DEC to accept MSW was a decade ago, only two years after opening the transfer station, said Calsolaro. They again attempted to modify the permit a few years ago, and again, most recently, in May of this year. In May, Albany’s Board of Zoning Appeals, which must grant the company a special-use permit to allow for the alteration, denied the company’s request. That same month, the DEC fined the company for receiving three truckloads of putrecible waste—household garbage.

As Calsolaro pointed out at the Thursday meeting: “That is the stuff that is diseased, and has bacteria living in it.” Calsolaro read from the citation: “‘Strong garbage smell; several gallons of brown liquid poured from the collection vehicles.’“

“They were already taking in municipal solid waste at this facility, in violation of the DEC permit, in violation of the zoning of the city of Albany,” he continued. “And now they are coming back to us and saying they want to make this legal, so that they can keep doing it?”

At the meeting, WM’s director of operations for New York state, Jack Conner, said that the company has since corrected its inspection process for the independent haulers bringing waste into transfer station. “We operate on a certain level of trust,” Conner said. “We are relying on the people that are disposing of their product to do what they are supposed to do.”

He explained that the request to modify the permit to accept MSW is economically driven. The company has lost roughly 60 employees in the area in the past few years. Accepting MSW at its South End station would enable its trucks, which collect roughly three loads a day and process them at the area’s two landfills, to pick up a final load and dump it at the station as they return for the evening.

“Competitively speaking, our competitors have transfer stations that are allowed to take in all kinds of waste, MSW,” said Conner. “Competitively speaking, we are at a disadvantage. At the end of the day, the efficiencies we gain, from a cost standpoint, bringing it back and to transfer it to our own facilities . . . puts us back competitively.” WM claimed that the company currently employs 75 people in the Capital Region. “At the rate we are going, we don’t know how much longer we can be here. We are trying to stay competitive.”

“You are the world’s biggest garbage company,” countered Jim Travers, an activist who doesn’t live in Albany. “When you say you want to stay competitive, that’s kind of laughable. You want to maximize your profits in these times, and that’s understandable. But you want to bring garbage into this community. You can’t eliminate odor. You can’t stop vermin from coming into the facility. It will be endless.”

Indeed, many of the community members already complain about the odor coming from the station, and they worry that trucks hauling in garbage will add to the odor problem and will increase the number of pests.

WM officials, however, argued that they will adhere to the strictest sanitation policies. “It is a constant process to ensure that that is not a problem,” said Jay Kaplin, the company’s regional environmental director. He pointed out that WM has an exterminator under contract, and that the garbage will be processed within an enclosed facility.

The members of the community also voiced their concerns about increased traffic, which the company claimed will not be an issue. They claimed that their trucks will use only I-787 to access the site and will never enter residential areas.

Calsolaro discarded that claim, pointing out that WM will be collecting trash in Delmar and Bethlehem. “It is going to depend on what neighborhood you are coming from. You are bringing garbage, not from the city of Albany, you are bringing garbage from Bethlehem, East Greenbush, Guilderland, Rensselaer and coming into the city of Albany with your garbage and dumping it on the residents of the South End.”

At the meeting, Ron Benson, a vice president with County Waste, a chief competitor of WM, made the threat that if WM succeeds in modifying its permit to accept MSW, his company will seek the same variance for its South Pearl station. “What the heck?” said Benson. “It might as well all be in that corner, so expect to be back here with us.”

“We will,” Calsolaro said. “Everybody dumps on the South End and the poor people.”

On Monday night, WM went before the Albany zoning board to reapply for the special-use permit that must be granted in conjunction with DEC’s approval. Although the board tabled the request, it did agree to be the lead agency on the company’s State Environmental Quality Review application, meaning that the zoning board will determine the extent of that crucial process.

—Chet Hardin

The Thursday meeting can be watched in its entirety at albanycommunity

Loose Ends

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