Landfill Protesters Fight Final Battle

After nine years, New York's Oneida and Herkimer Counties may finally get a landfill — if war veterans in Ava, N.Y., are not successful in their protest. As early as this fall, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Watertown, N.Y, will decide weather to issue final permits for a 200,000 tons per year landfill to be built 800 feet from the edge of a veterans memorial forest.

Oneida and Herkimer Counties started their landfill search in 1991, when they began to export waste to places such as Rochester, N.Y.

“The [Solid Waste Management] Authority Board wants to be able to control disposal costs which have been rising since 1991,” says Mike Wolak, director of engineering for the Authority.

Consequently, the Authority evaluated the soil and underground water and rock formations at 79 possible sites in the two counties, eventually selecting two locations. Then in 1994, after 44 public meetings, the Authority chose the Ava site because of its deep clay deposits and protective bedrock, as well as its location in a sparsely populated area, Wolak says.

However some Ava residents — including several veterans — are protesting the landfill because they are concerned about the possible environmental effects. They also say the landfill will dishonor the memories of war veterans.

On August 10, during two public hearings organized by the DEC, 57 people expressed concerns about the proposed landfill to an administrative law judge. Opponents are concerned about the projected 180-foot landfill height, as well as the threat of groundwater contamination, odor, birds and vermin. Only six people spoke in favor of the landfill. A representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo, N.Y., along with Oneida County legislators and more than 500 concerned citizens, also attended the hearings.

However, the site's proximity to the veteran's memorial forest never influenced the Authority's decision, according to Wolak, who says that one of the original sites considered actually overlapped the forest.

In answer to the veterans' concerns, Wolak says that the trees between the veterans' forest and the proposed landfill will provide a visual buffer. To avoid groundwater contamination, the Authority will install a dual composite liner system above natural clay formations, as well as leachate collection pipes. Monitoring wells will be evaluated from now until 30 years after the landfill's closure.

Wolak says that the Authority will keep the landfill's active working face to a minimum and will install noise deterrents, litter fences and daily landfill covers.

But for Ken Martin, a retired Marine who heads the group Veterans Defending our Memorial Forest, these solutions offered by the Authority are not good enough.

Nevertheless, the veterans' last hope of blocking the permits is to convince the judge that the case requires further scrutiny. If the judge agrees, the issue will be adjudicated during the next few months. If not, the New York DEC Commissioner could issue final permits within days of the judge's decision.

At this point, the opposition must convince the judge that the proposed landfill would violate existing environmental and solid waste regulations, a difficult task considering that the DEC already has reviewed the Oneida County Waste Authority's environmental impact statement and determined it is acceptable.

Things do not look good for the opposition, according to Steve Litwhiler, citizen participation specialist for the DEC's Region 6.

“We have issued a draft permit because everything we see says that a landfill can be constructed [on the site] and would be environmentally sound, according to the state's solid waste regulations,” he says.

The protesters have received the support of the commander in chief of the national headquarters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Kansas City, Mo., and the national adjutant general. Martin believes these groups will provide pivotal support.