What to do with an empty landfill?
In the 1990s, Saratoga County sank $10 million into a landfill in Northumberland that wasn’t needed, that no one there wanted, and that was never used. Now, with its own finances much tighter than back then, it wants to recoup its money by selling or leasing the landfill to a private company. That’s understandable, but money shouldn’t be the only — or necessarily even the biggest — consideration.
Before getting into specifics, we will say that an open process, with lots of public input, should have been a major part of this. That’s especially so in light of how the original landfill decision was made, with county officials ignoring those who said (correctly, it turned out) that the county had other good waste disposal options locally, and that the landfill would consume precious farmland in an agricultural community.
Instead, the proposals the county has been negotiating with three bidders since last winter have been kept secret; the danger is that it will simply move ahead with its favorite one, regardless of what town and county residents say at a required public hearing scheduled for May 15. Nor will there be much time for residents to read the proposals and attend the hearing (although they should, because this issue affects everyone in the county, not just those in Northumberland), since the hearing will follow by just one week release of the three proposals.
Those proposals are from Finch Paper, which runs a paper mill in Glens Falls; Casella Waste Management of Rutland, Vt., a major regional waste hauler; and Waste Connections Inc., a national waste handler based in Texas.
Since they are still secret, we don’t know which one is best. But we do know that having a place to dispose of the county’s municipal waste isn’t crucial: Other affordable options, including a recently privatized Colonie landfill that is looking to expand and a waste incinerator in Washington County, still exist. Also, this landfill is undersized and would fill up pretty fast with municipal waste, particularly if having a disposal site located in the county discouraged recycling.
Money, of course, is important, and Northumberland should get a hefty chunk of it both for its past treatment and as the “host community.” But if the amount is anywhere near close to the others, preference should be given to Finch Paper, a longtime upstate New York manufacturer that employs nearly 800 in the area, with many from Saratoga County.