Hamilton, Essex counties must create waste plans, state says
By Gwendolyn Craig
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is withholding almost $1 million designated in the state budget for Hamilton and Essex counties’ solid waste expenses because the counties do not have waste management plans. County leaders are frustrated, with one calling it “another bureaucratic gimmick.”
The state subsidies began in 1998 along with a 20-year agreement, which would prohibit the only two counties wholly within the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park from hosting a landfill. Republican Gov. George Pataki had called for all landfills in the Adirondacks to be closed, allocating $50 million in the 1996 Clean Air/Clean Water Bond Act for the task. Pataki did not want solid waste trucked “into one of America’s most treasured parks.”
Though the 20-year agreement has ended, there have been contract extensions and revisions, and the counties have lobbied year-to-year for the state’s financial assistance.
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Lawmakers have so far kept the line items in past state budgets – $150,000 for Hamilton County and $300,000 for Essex County. The DEC denied both counties two reimbursement requests for the last two years, a total of $600,000 for Essex County and $300,000 for Hamilton County.
Joseph O’Connell, director of DEC’s Bureau of Solid Waste Management, sent letters to both counties this year, noting requirements in the latest contracts that neither were following. They include that the counties must have an approved local solid waste management plan and that any solid waste management facility be properly permitted and constructed. Because neither county has a management plan, the DEC told the Explorer, “DEC cannot make payment.”
“DEC is continuing to engage with the counties to explain the terms of the contracts and has offered assistance to the counties with development of the required local solid waste management plans,” a spokesperson said.
Shaun Gillilland, Willsboro town supervisor and chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, said the county never had a plan because it has no landfill. The DEC said a plan is still mandatory.
He added that “unless this is corrected quickly,” Essex County will refuse to collect state agencies’ trash for transfer outside the Adirondack Park. There are a number of state agencies with offices in Essex County, including the DEC, Adirondack Park Agency, State Police and Department of Transportation. Gillilland said many state campgrounds deliver their trash to the county’s transfer station. He called the DEC’s withholding of payments already allocated in past state budgets a “bureaucratic gimmick.”
Brian Wells, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, said the county is reviewing the language in the agreement and has set up a committee meeting to discuss it.
Wells and Gillilland also want state lawmakers to up the trash agreement payments this upcoming fiscal year to adjust for inflation. There have been no increases to the subsidy since it began. Hamilton County now spends more than $400,000 on managing its trash, according to budget records. Essex County’s solid waste budget was around $1.6 million in 2021.
The DEC said any additional funding would be part of the state budget process.
Top photo: Waste arrives at Essex County’s transfer station in Lewis, from where it is ultimately trucked out of the Adirondack Park. Photo by Mike Lynch
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