Landfill odor is raising more stink and citizens are getting more involved

A growing number of people are fed up with the stench, traffic and health concerns posed by area landfills and will turn out at events next week in Corning and Rochester. These and meetings statewide hosted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation will gather public input in forming a “new vision” for handling the state’s solid waste, DEC says.

Many want to see the Finger Lakes region end its run hosting the state’s three largest landfills: Seneca Meadows, High Acres, and the Ontario County landfill. As it stands, Seneca Meadows is scheduled to close in 2025 and the permit for the Ontario County landfill expires in 2028. But closing landfills, especially these giant ones, takes years and faces environmental, financial and other challenges.

“We need to focus all our resources to get off landfills,” said Geneva City Councilor Ken Camera. He will be one of those headed to the Corning meeting Tuesday, Feb. 26. Others in the area plan to attend the one in Rochester, Monday, Feb. 25.

‘Out of control’

Geneva, within 30 miles of all three landfills, is a prime spot for landfill traffic and odor. Now, with the Ontario County landfill in the throws of an expansion at its site in the town of Seneca, landfill stench is reaching more communities, including Canandaigua — in one sense, good news, if you can call it that.

“It’s unusual for people in Canandaigua to smell the landfill,” said Geneva Town Supervisor Mark Venuti. “It is out of control now.” Because of this, more people are realizing it’s not just a Geneva problem, he said.

Residents continue to press officials about landfill odor and connect with others feeling the effects.

Jean Cirone, a Geneva resident who teaches in Canandaigua, pointed to a real-time reporting app, "Fresh Air for the Eastside," and wants something similar for the Ontario County landfill. Fresh Air for the Eastside is a space to collect and share information about noxious odors from High Acres landfill in Perinton. The app can differentiate odors (their composition and source) and automatically picks up locations via GPS technology and records weather conditions.

“Best of all, it automatically generates letters to the landfill, all the county supervisors and the DEC,” Cirone said. Meanwhile, she and others say getting a response from a hotline for odors from the Ontario County landfill can take more than an hour. By the time a landfill representative arrives, odors have dissipated, she said.

Ontario County and landfill manager Casella Waste Systems say they are working on improving the reporting system. Casella has hired two companies to help in odor control. Ontario County has its own contractor working on analysis and recommendations.

Officials blame intensifying landfill odors over the past few months on an expansion project at the landfill, which faced delays in final approval from the DEC. Last week, Casella announced it was “diligently working to reduce our odors” citing a “team of scientists and engineers helping us to assess and map out the problem, and we will implement their suggested changes for improvement.”

Casella reported the DEC approved a design to install vertical gas wells in the cell currently being filled with trash. The project should be done by the end of February, possibly sooner should weather permit.

“This will help significantly with the gas odors on the east side of the landfill. Normally, we’d like to finish filling the cell and cease operations before installing wells, but capturing the gas is our top priority …” Casella stated.

The company hired an independent third party, Towpath Investigative Services, to take over its odor investigations. Towpath is trained to scientifically assess odors and is experienced with landfill odors based on odor investigations conducted at other facilities in the area, according to Casella. Using Towpath “will also free up time for landfill staff to concentrate on operating the landfill, fixing our problems and avoiding future issues,” the company added.

Venuti said he sees Casella taking steps showing it is serious about fixing the landfill odor problem. But the county has been down this road before. Ontario County hired SCS Engineers several years ago when there was really bad landfill odor, Venuti recalled. Casella followed recommendations, and that kept landfill odor at bay — for awhile. Then came the recent expansion and an issue with the amount of sludge coming into the facility. Venuti hopes the latest efforts will also work, which may mean improving gas collection and agreement to take less sludge.

Meanwhile, there’s the short-term problem to address, along with working on a long-term solution.

What’s the vision?

Geneva City Councilman Camera said a draft vision statement is aimed at consolidating support in the Finger Lakes region for closing its existing landfills. The document focuses on bringing together citizens and local governments toward the goal. Once finalized, the statement will be circulated to all local governments in the region for each to pass as resolutions of support.

The statement is a “signal to the State government that the Finger Lakes region, while actively addressing its own needs, will no longer serve as a repository for other people’s waste,” the draft states.

According to the vision, the mega landfills — that are now taking trash from across the state and beyond — would be replaced in the Finger Lakes region by small, regional, publicly-owned landfills. With recycling, reuse and recovery of most materials, these landfills would take only benign non-toxic material with no beneficial use. Only a small amount of waste would need to go to landfills, Camera said.

People are urged to weigh in on the landfills and attend an upcoming DEC meeting. More information is available at https://bit.ly/2V5UY6a

Pilot project coming to landfill

Casella Waste Systems Inc. wants to do a 12-month pilot project to boost recycling and recovery efforts. Last week, Ontario County approved Casella’s request to apply for a DEC permit to establish and operate an “organics depackaging operation.”

The operation would take place in existing space at the landfill in the town of Seneca. The process would separate packaged food, beverages and other organic material from their packaging and send separated material to offsite anaerobic digesters (anaerobic digesters break down biodegradable material to produce biogas that is combusted to generate electricity and heat, or processed into renewable natural gas and transportation fuels.)

Recyclable packaging would be sent to the onsite Material and Recovery Facility, and all other material not suitable for digestion or recycling would be placed in the landfill as solid waste.

The project will divert organics and recyclable materials from the landfill and provide information needed for consideration of a possible larger-scale operation in the future.