FORT JOHNSON A few dozen guys in Carhartt jackets and hoodies hunched in the shelter of a machine shed Monday morning and talked about leachate.
The shed shook and moaned in the wind, and snow blasted through gaps in the door frames. The place sits at the base of a very large hill in Fort Johnson — the grass-covered remnants of one of Montgomery County’s former landfills. Leachate is water that percolates down through tons of buried trash and emerges at the bottom, contaminated. Nearly 2.5 million gallons of the stuff is collected in a tank behind the shed every year and must be trucked away. The bundled crowd assembled Monday in the hopes of getting hired to do that hauling, a potentially lucrative job.
“It’s always good to get contract work,” said Daniel Popp of EnSol Inc.
The machine shed meeting was just one stop on the long road to a new solid waste removal plan in Montgomery County. For the past 25 years, trash from three counties was hauled away by the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority. On April 30, the service contract that formed MOSA will end and there is no interest in continuing it, which means the counties have to figure out a new way to remove trash.
Currently, Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort is in talks with Fulton County, hoping to share trash services. Schoharie County might get on board as well. In a past Gazette interview, Ossenfort said he hopes to learn from MOSA’s mistakes.
Over the past decade, all three counties were hit with millions of dollars in shortfall fines for not creating the contractually mandated amount of trash. Even after MOSA dissolves, the counties will have to pay millions more to maintain three old landfills MOSA left behind.
A landfill in the Town of Root closed in 1994, another in Otsego shut down three years later, and the largest of the three, the 1.1 million-ton mound in Fort Johnson, was covered over with grass in 1999.
MOSA cared for the closed facilities as part of its normal operations. Now that MOSA is about to dissolve, the counties are set to take joint responsibility of the old landfills, and are looking to pay a private company to do the job. Monday’s landfill tour was a mandatory part of the bidding process.
“We picked a great day for it,” said MOSA Executive Director Dennis Heaton, opening the shed door a crack to view clouds of snow whip over the grass-covered trash hill.
Heaton, Montgomery County Public Works Commissioner Paul Clayburn and Otsego County representative Hans Arnold filled potential haulers in on the nature of the job and proposal process.
The job involves some mowing, along with some regular maintenance of vents and draining equipment, but mainly there’s a lot of leachate hauling. Traditionally, Clayburn said, caring for closed landfills made up only a small fraction of trash disposal costs, but all the hauling adds up.
“A lot of wastewater places don’t take it,” said Blue Heron Construction representative C.W. Gregory. “It kills their bacteria.”
His company trucks leachate from the Seneca Meadows landfill two hours north to Watertown just to offload. Currently, the liquid from MOSA’s old landfills is processed in Canajoharie and Amsterdam at a cost of between 2 and 4 cents per gallon, not counting trucking costs.
“You’re looking at a total of 5 million gallons between the three locations,” Gregory said. “That alone will probably cost more than a million dollars a year.”
According to a request for proposals posted on the Otsego County website, landfill care costs will be split three ways, with Schoharie paying 18 percent, Montgomery 42 percent and Otsego 40 percent. The total cost won’t be known until a proposal is accepted, but over future decades area taxpayers will pay millions to keep the landfills clean and drained.
Long-term responsibility for the counties means gain for a lucky contractor.
“I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of people here today,” Arnold said.
As they talked of leachate and gas vents and DEC regulations, company representatives trickled in. They crowded around tractors and winterized county machinery, taking notes and asking questions.
“It depends on how the numbers add up,” Gregory said, explaining the big turnout, “but contract work is steady work.”
The landfill contract is set to last four years and could run a lot longer. Paychecks will run as steady as the stream of leachate.