Wine and garbage? NYC trash train plan draws upstate protest

AP News
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Posted: Nov 01, 2015 12:00 PM
Wine and garbage? NYC trash train plan draws upstate protest

WATERLOO, N.Y. (AP) — The winemaker who supplied the sacramental spirits for Pope Francis' visit to Manhattan has a new label named for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: "No Trash! De Blasio Blush."

The wine from Eagle Crest Vineyards is part of a campaign against a proposed 20-year, $3.3 billion contract to ship trainloads of New York City garbage to the state's largest municipal landfill, Seneca Meadows, which spans 400 acres in central New York's Finger Lakes region.

"The Finger Lakes shouldn't be the garbage dump for New York City," said Eagle Crest owner Will Ouweleen, whose winery in Conesus is 40 miles west of the landfill. "Send us your tourists, not your trash."

Wine Enthusiast Magazine named the Finger Lakes "2015 Wine Region of the Year" in recognition of the world-class quality of its wines and the economic impact of wine tourism.

But the Finger Lakes region also has four of the state's largest landfills, where half of all municipal solid waste in the state — and some from out of state — is buried. Seneca Meadows, just south of the New York State Thruway, is the biggest, receiving up to 2 million tons of trash annually. The New York City deal would add 24 to 36 rail cars — or 2,495 tons — every day, but those rail cars will simply replace most of the tractor trailers already hauling the city's garbage to Seneca Meadows.

Steve Churchill, who represents the town of Seneca Falls on the county Board of Supervisors, said the sight and sulfurous smell of the landfill along a main travel route into the Finger Lakes region makes a bad impression on tourists.

"We're smelling it day after day," said Rich Swinehart, CEO of Waterloo Glass, which supplies bottles for many of the Finger Lakes wineries and is across the street from Seneca Meadows.

Local residents and businesses who oppose the landfill see the rail proposal as a way to extend the life of the facility past its current permit date of 2023. But it's not clear how they can stop the New York City contract, which needs only the approval of city Comptroller Scott Stringer. Several members of the coalition had traveled to a city hearing on the contract two weeks ago in hopes of making their case.

Neither Stringer nor de Blasio returned calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

New York City's Sanitation Department said in a statement that the amount of trash that will be shipped to Seneca Meadows is a little less than a quarter of the trash collected daily in the city. The rest goes to other landfills, including one in the Rochester area that receives trash by train, and some in other states.

Greg Lazzaro, who recently beat the incumbent in the Republican primary for town supervisor in Seneca Falls, said one option is for the town to end the host community agreement and put land-use bans in place. But he said that would mean coming up with a way to replace the almost $3 million a year in revenue the town gets in the deal.

Seneca Meadows is owned by Ontario-based Progressive Waste Solutions, the third-largest waste services company in North America. Its property in Seneca County includes the capped site of the original local landfill, one of thousands of leaky garbage dumps around the state that were closed decades ago and replaced by 27 regional landfills regulated by the state.

"There's been an evolution in landfilling that made it a regional approach, which is a much more economically and environmentally friendly way to do it," said Kyle Black, district manager of Seneca Meadows.

Black said the host community agreement provides tax stability to Seneca Falls and Waterloo, and there's no reason the landfill and wineries can't coexist.

"We provide good, well-paying jobs," he said. "The wineries provide great tourism."