A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 July 5, 1990
Consultants: GERSHAM, BRICKNER & BRATTON
Lawyers to SWDA: NIXON, HARGRAVE, DEVANS & DOYLE
Laywers to Harbert-Triga: LE BOEUF, LAMB, LEIBY & MAC RAE
Financial Advisors: Public Resources Advisory Group
Bond Trustee: Key Trustof Albany
Health Risk Assessment: Robert A. Michaels of RAM-TRAC.
Environmental Assessment: Environmental Risk Ltd., CT.
Major Proponents: Mary Verlaque, Director of County Planning;
Bob McNeil, County Treasurer; N.Y. Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC); and the editors of The Ogdensburg Journal.
Stage of Proposal: On June 21, 1990, the NY DEC issued permits to construct the incinerator and the incinerator ash landfill. The ashfill still needed a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers because it was sited in wetlands. On July 2nd the trash authority, SWDA, voted 6-2 to approve the incinerator bonds. The last hurdle was the vote by the 22-member County Board of Legislators on July 9th to approve the bonds. The vote was a tie at ll-ll, which meant that a weighted vote (weighted according to how many people each Legislator represented) was calculated. The weighted vote was: 52.7% against approval of the bonds, 47.3% for approval. SWDA was expecting to obtain the bonds on July 10th.
Reasons for the defeat: Intense resident and hauler opposition, restrictive flow control, no recycling plan, the necessity to import waste, exorbitant tip fees, questions over countys economic liability, and the lack of guaranteed ash landfill. Residents were concerned about the adverse impact on their health and environment and the uptake of incinerator pollutants in the foodchains, and wanted county-wide recycling and composting instead. Those were the reasons why so many people in the county became involved and stayed involved to defeat the incinerator. The County Legislature had a deaf ear to environmental and health concerns, maintaining that if the State said it was safe, then they would believe the State. When the economics of the project were examined by independent businessmen and the Countys League of Women Voters, the Legislators began to listen and question the project. Because the incinerator was oversized, (population of county 110,000), and with the countys goal of 40% recycling, the necessity to import waste became obvious, though SWDA director, Paul OConnor, skirted the importation issue at every turn, because of the immense resident opposition to it. Several legislators had called for an independent analysis of the finances of the project, but they lost the vote because of an 11th-hour manipulative strategy from the pro-incinerator County Treasurer, who said, to everyones surprise, that he had contracted for an independent (!) study. By this time enough concerns were raised for Legislators to realize that the incinerator was leading the county into economic quicksand, and the vote to approve the bonds was defeated. The events from January 1st, 1990, when the new Legislators took office, catapulted Legislators into serious questioning, for the first time, of the projects economics, the necessity to import waste, SWDAs inability to come up with a recycling plan (Gersham, Brickner & Bratton, were paid $86,000 to do SWDAs recycling plan, which even the NY DEC rejected), anticipated incinerator tip fees ranging from $145-$180, the understanding of the liability of the county if the project failed, etc. SWDA brought every consultant it had to the county in April 1990 to answer the questions. But the questions persisted after the consultants went back to Washington, DC.
THE STORY: The proposal to build an incinerator in St. Lawrence County was the most controversial issue in the countys history and the most expensive project the county would have been involved in. The residents were not allowed a referendum on the issue. Created to solve the countys trash problem, the trash authority was a honeypot for consultants and lawyers, and, if an incinerator was built, it would have needed a minimum 25% of imported waste. SWDA was totally unresponsive to citizens and haulers alike, and the people had to take their concerns to their elected representatives, the County Board of Legislators. With a backdrop of a county in the grips of an old-boy-system of allegiance to the pro-incinerator Director of Planning and County Treasurer, residents fought for over 5 l/2 years to raise their concerns to their elected representatives. The legislators tried as hard as they could to ignore the concerns, claiming the authority was in charge. This battle for the County Legislators attention resulted in over l,400 residents attending a May 8, 1989, Legislative meeting to urge Legislators not to vote for the incinerator bond. While the county-wide citizen group, Work on Waste-St. Lawrence County, battled to raise their concerns to their Legislators the Director of County Planning ran interference with the Legislators to keep them in a pro-incinerator alignment. In the Fall of 1989 anti-incinerator supporters campaigned hard to elect County Legislators who would be responsive to the concerns of the people they represented - an idea that had lain dormant in county politics. The November 1989 elections proved pivotal in the vote that defeated the incinerator on July 9th, 1990:
Three hundred people attended the July 9th meeting on the incinerator bond vote. When it was announced that the incinerator was defeated, there were shouts of joy from residents who never thought they would win, but who never gave up trying.
Cost of Project: Out of the anticipated $33 million bond, $28 million was for construction of the incinerator with the NY DEC promising a $6 million subsidy to SWDA only if they built an incinerator, for a total anticipated cost of $34 million. The $6 million promised subsidy was from the 1972 NY State Environmental Bond. (The pro-incinerator NY DEC had allotted over $200 million from the 1972 bond to subsidize incinerators in the State, with less than $5 million from the 1972 bond allocated for recycling.) A minimum of $5 million has been spent by the trash authority, SWDA, on consultants and lawyers. In 1987 and 1988 SWDA received bonds totaling $9.4 million, all of which $800,000 is available for the closure of the countys three operating landfills. An $11 million bond was anticipated for 1991 to cover ashfill costs.
Siting: The incinerator would have been positioned between two state-run prisons and a large state-run psychiatric hospital in Ogdensburg. St. Lawrence County is north of the Adirondacks, and is the largest milk-producing county in NY State. The incinerator would have been less than 1/4 mile from St. Lawrence River and 1 mile from Prescott, Ontario, Canada.