Ash for trash is "a dead issue," says Cortland legislator who fought for deal

CORTLAND, N.Y. – A Cortland County legislator who has been a longtime proponent of the proposed ash for trash deal with the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA) is throwing in the towel.

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John Troy, who serves on the county's Solid Waste Committee, said in a phone interview Friday he was disappointed that the county legislature voted Thursday against a similar proposal that involved importing 4,500 tons of ash per year for use as cover at the landfill.

Under that proposal, the county would have committed to a five-year contract with OCRRA to import ash from Onondaga County’s trash incinerator. Legislators argued that the deal would have brought in more than $100,000 in annual revenue to the county, both through tipping fees charged to OCRRA and by saving money on mining equipment, which the county uses to harvest shale for use as cover at the landfill.

More than a dozen people spoke out Thursday against the agreement, citing the potential health and environmental risks of importing ash and the financial uncertainty of the broader ash for trash agreement.

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A large crowd filled the chambers of the Cortland County Legislature Thursday night (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

The ash for trash proposal would have Cortland County importing 90,000 tons of ash each year from Onondaga County. In exchange, about 35,000 tons of trash from Cortland County would be transported to an incinerator at the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), which manages Onondaga County’s waste and incinerator.

The deal was billed as a solution to budget shortfalls at the county’s landfill operation, which costs the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual expenses.

In April, Cortland County drafted an agreement with OCRRA, but the deal was put on hold after Homer businessman Victor Siegle presented county leaders with financial figures that appeared to contradict their initial estimates. Siegle is now part of an ad hoc committee created by the county that is exploring other possible options for the landfill.

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John Troy (provided photo)

Troy was one of several legislators who advocated strongly for the deal since it was first proposed in August 2013.

A spokesperson for OCRRA told that Thursday’s vote on ash for cover was a “litmus test” for the larger ash for trash agreement. She clarified, though, that she believes ash for trash “is not dead.”

Troy agreed with her assessment but came to a different conclusion, calling it "a dead issue."

"I don't see any way ash for trash could pass if ash for cover doesn't," Troy said. "It's definitely dead. I don't even know if it would make it out of the [solid waste] committee now."

Troy said legislators will now have to explore other options to avoid financial pitfalls at the landfill.

“The landfill is a service and it’s not supposed to make money, but it’s losing so much money that we can’t afford the service without making some changes,” Troy said.

Those changes will likely include increasing flow control, which allows local governments to require private waste contractors to deliver their curbside garbage to a specific disposal facility – in this case, the Cortland County landfill.

The county is also exploring the option of increasing tipping fees for haulers who dump trash at the landfill. The county’s tipping fee, at $60 per ton, has not been increased for roughly two decades. Troy says the county is looking at increasing the tipping fee by $15 to $20 per ton.

A consultant hired by the county estimated that if the county does not make changes to its landfill operations, the county could lose about $700,000 annually for the next five years, Troy said.

Siegle said Friday he is looking forward to refining his numbers with options that don't include ash for trash.

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