Can Ontario County landfill manager Casella correct pervasive landfill stench?

Can landfill manager Casella Waste Systems Inc. fix persistent odor problems rising from the Ontario County landfill? Some don’t think so — at least not under the current arrangement.

“As soon as the expansion started the odor has been consistent, pervasive, expanding,” said Charlie Evangelista, a former Geneva City supervisor who was on the Ontario County Board of Supervisors for more than two decades. “I am not sure the current management is capable of reducing this odor,” he said before the board Thursday.

Like other supervisors who spoke, Evangelista talked about his past support for Casella in managing the landfill, as well as his faith in the company in 2015 when he voted for the landfill expansion the board approved.

Reading excerpts from over six months of landfill reports, Evangelista noted a litany of landfill odor problems, reasons Casella gave and promises to improve.

Either Casella “doesn’t know how to fix the problem or they are not talking in a straight manner,” Evangelista said.

At issue is landfill stench so bad over recent months it is permeating communities miles from the site in the town of Seneca. Odors increased dramatically last fall about the time Casella broke ground on construction of a new cell permitted by the expansion.

Bristol Town Supervisor Bob Green said that for the first time ever he is hearing odor complaints from residents in his town. “It has traveled that far,” said Green. He added that in Bristol, nearly 20 miles to the west, you can now “see the mountain.”

The expansion allows construction of a new cell for taking trash in the landfill on Routes 5 and 20, as well as raising the mountain of trash an additional 28 feet, to as high as 1,024 feet.

Canandaigua City Supervisor David Baker, who also approved the expansion, said Thursday the landfill “has not been operating properly.”

Baker and other supervisors said they are sick of hearing re-occurring excuses that wet weather is a cause of excess odor. “Six years ago we had a rash of odor problems and was told it was from a wet season,” said Baker, adding wet seasons are commonplace in the Finger Lakes.

“I don’t accept wet seasons as a reason or excuse. I don’t want to hear anymore about wet weather — that you are not prepared,” Baker said.

Kicking off Thursday’s discussion before the county board was Shelley Sayward, Casella vice president and assistant general counsel. She assured the board Casella is moving with a sense of urgency and is committed to rebuilding trust. She referred to Casella’s multiple engineering efforts, closer monitoring and mapping of odor, and correcting permit violations involving gas wells among other actions. A class this week will train employees at the landfill on how to recognize odorous loads so they can be turned away, Sayward said.

Sayward said Casella would take no new contracts for sludge and accept “no more than 15 percent sludge on a monthly average.”

Sewage sludge from wastewater treatment coming into the landfill has been one of the culprits blamed for odors some describe as so intense it makes them sick.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation reported the Ontario County landfill took in 130,295 tons of sludge last year — a 93 percent increase from the average annual intake of 67,579 over the previous six years. The increase was noted in a Feb. 12, 2019 letter to Ontario County landfill general manager Mark Clinker. The letter was a DEC Notice of Violation for failure to install a required number of gas wells at the landfill.

When questioned about the significance of taking no more than 15 percent sludge, Sayward said Casella has already been taking less than 15 percent. After the meeting, Sayward and Clinker dismissed the 93 percent increase, indicating they didn’t know where that came from.

Some supervisors have called for Casella to stop taking sludge altogether. One of them is Geneva City Supervisor Lou Guard, who questioned Thursday whether the 15 percent would make any difference.

Several residents spoke, including Jim Hogan of Geneva. “There is always an excuse for the odor,” said Hogan. He said he doesn’t want to be put off anymore with promises of “a next meeting” and “we are gonna” do this or that to fix it.

“I am looking to you,” Hogan said, addressing the Board of Supervisors. “We can’t look to Casella.”