With ‘ash for cover’ off the table, lawmakers may force haulers to dispose waste in Cortland County

CORTLAND, N.Y. — A committee of Cortland County legislators is back to square one after intense public opposition to a proposed plan to import incinerator ash from Onondaga County forced the legislature to rescind the proposal last week.

On Thursday, more than two-dozen people came to the Cortland County Legislature to speak out against the plan, voicing public health and environmental concerns over the metals and dioxins found in the ash.

The plan was similar to one that was proposed in November 2015, which involved importing about 5,000 tons of incinerator ash as cover at the landfill. Legislators voted 9-7 against the measure after hearing similar public outcry.

What now?

The county’s solid waste committee met Tuesday to discuss ways to increase revenue and reduce the debt of its landfill operation. Each year, Cortland County loses about $800,000 on its landfill.

Committee members revisited the possibility of implementing “flow control” in the county, which would involve crafting legislation requiring all haulers who collect waste in Cortland County to dispose it at the county landfill.

Members of the Cortland County Solid Waste Committee met Tuesday morning to discuss ideas for generating revenue at the county landfill, which costs the county roughly $800,000 annually (Photo: Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

Members of the Cortland County Solid Waste Committee met Tuesday morning to discuss ideas for generating revenue at the county landfill, which costs the county roughly $800,000 annually (Photo: Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

Solid Waste Committee chair Charles Sudbrink, who has supported both the ash for cover and ash for trash plans, is opposed to flow control. He says it would be costly to haulers who normally dispose of their waste outside of the county and force them to raise curbside fees for their customers.

“I don’t want the county residents to be taken advantage of by an increase in curbside fees,” Sudbrink said. “Flow control would definitely solve the county government’s problem, but is it really helping county residents pay their taxes?”

In previous meetings between haulers and legislators, most haulers have said they do not support the idea of flow control, according to legislator Thomas Hartnett. One hauler promised to file a lawsuit if such a plan is implemented, Hartnett said.

“It’s cheaper for them to go outside the county,” he said.

Legislators also discussed raising tipping fees at the landfill. If that were to happen, haulers would likely take their waste outside the county, though flow control is designed to prevent this scenario.

At $60 per ton, the rate to dump waste at the landfill has remained unchanged for about 20 years.

Can flow control work?

Flow control laws are already in effect in several New York counties and have held up against legal challenges from waste haulers.

In 2006, when Oneida and Herkimer counties enacted flow control for their shared landfill, the United Haulers Association, Inc., an industry group representing waste management companies, filed a lawsuit, arguing that flow control violated the U.S. Commerce Clause by discriminating against interstate commerce.

The case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Oneida and Herkimer counties.

It would likely take about 18 months of jumping legal hurdles for flow control to be implemented, according to legislator John Troy.

Is importing ash really off the table?

Troy, who has been an outspoken proponent of importing incinerator ash, said at Tuesday’s meeting that importing ash from outside the county would bring in outside revenue.

He also said he would like to see the ‘ash for cover’ plan brought back to the legislature for a vote, where it would face intense public scrutinty.

“I think you’re bringing a huge firestorm against us that makes us look like a bunch of idiots,” legislator Christopher Newell said. “You’re gonna get pitchforks out there.”

Troy responded that legislators should not be “bullied” into making a decision.

“It might start a firestorm,” he said. “I don’t think we as legislators should worry about the firestorm. I think we should do what’s right for the taxpayers.”

Committee chair Sudbrink said he does not plan to bring the issue back to the committee, but agreed with Troy that the legislature should not have caved to ash opponents.

“We were foolish in buckling,” he said.