Cortland trash hauler's expansion project faces scrutiny

CORTLANDVILLE, N.Y. – Greg Leach, the owner of Leach’s Custom Trash Service in Cortland, has faced more scrutiny than he expected for approval of an expansion project for his business.

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The local businessman is looking to build a secondary access road to his business on Route 13 that would allow the company to store parking equipment and large trash containers used to haul and transport trash. Leach recently acquired the roughly 10-acre parcel from Suit-Kote Corporation, which had not been using the land.

A public hearing was held by the Cortlandville Town Board Wednesday regarding Leach’s submission for an aquifer protection permit. Leach, who also serves on the 5-member board, sat with the audience during the public hearing – where he was joined by friends, family members and employees of the business – and rejoined the board after the hearing concluded.

He also left the room when board members discussed and later voted to approve the aquifer protection permit for his business.

The “gorilla in the room”

Pam Jenkins, a Cortland resident, has been a vocal opponent of Leach’s expansion project, alleging at previous town board meetings that he was working with county leaders to use his operation as part of the proposed ash for trash deal between Cortland County and the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA).

Related: Understanding Cortland County's ash for trash deal – and why it's stalled

Leach’s attorney, Don Armstrong, addressed Jenkins’ claims Wednesday night, which he referred to as "the gorilla in the room."

“It appears that there is information out there that this application by Mr. Leach is part of some agreement with the county relating to the county’s landfill situation,” Armstrong told the board. “If someone believes that [and] is here tonight … that belief is based on rumor, speculation or innuendo.”

Armstrong went on to say that Leach has had discussions with officials at the county level over the years for a number of reasons, though he denied any agreement between Leach and the county regarding the ash for trash proposal. Leach himself has also denied any agreement.

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Don Armstrong, attorney for Greg Leach, addressing the Cortlandville Town Board Wednesday night (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

Michael Barulski, a Cortland resident, said he considered Leach a “hardworking citizen” but questioned whether his position as a town board member discouraged members of the public from addressing concerns about the project.

“His position on the town board has intimidated many of us from speaking our minds about projects coming before both boards because of the concern for retaliation,” Barulski said. “Even if it is not illegal, it smacks of favoritism and has the appearance of a corrupt town government.” Barulski then said Leach should withdraw himself from the town board and withdraw his application.

Gregory Leach’s son, Pat Leach, who is a manager at the business, said his father is a member of the public and “the most honest person you can find.”

“We had the chance to purchase this property. We need a driveway. We need more access. That’s the bottom line,” Leach said.

Town supervisor Richard Tupper dismissed claims that Leach’s position on the town board served to influence the decision-making process.

“Everybody on this board is part-time, and most of us here have businesses,” Tupper said. “We’re not here to intimidate anybody. Anybody can have a private business and have a necessity to come before the zoning board or planning board.”

Size of parcel in dispute

During Wednesday’s public hearing, Jenkins also argued that the parcel was more than 10 acres and, therefore, subject to a more strict environmental assessment than it received (Armstrong disputed that figure, referring to the land as a 9-acre parcel during the public hearing).

Jenkins appeared to convince board member Ronal Rocco, as he would be the only member to vote against approving the aquifer protection permit.

“Greg is my friend and has been for a long time. This puts me in a very difficult position,” Rocco said. “We are very good friends, and unfortunately we have to face things like this. Sitting in the seat that I have is a very uncomfortable one.”

Town attorney John Folmer said Leach had already received a zoning variance from the county planning board, which listed the project as an “unlisted action,” – meaning it was not required to undergo a full environmental review.

Leach still needs more required permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as a stormwater management plan, before he can begin the project, according to his attorney.

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