A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 July 12, 1990


The defeat of the incinerator in
St. Lawrence County,
New York

The Editors of this newsletter have had more than a passing interest in the St. Lawrence County incinerator battle! It was this battle, in our own county, that first got us involved five and a half years ago with the waste issue. Indeed, it was this battle which lead to our reaching out to other groups around the country involved in similar battles. In turn, this led to the formation of the National Campaign Against Mass-Burn Incineration and for Safe Alternatives in 1985 by anti-incinerator groups in New Haven, CT, Holyoke, MA, Rutland, VT, Claremont, NH, and St. Lawrence County, NY, and to the series of newsletters produced in 1986-87 (does anyone remember the 200-page newsletter!), which evolved into Work on Waste-USA, the newsletter Waste Not, Paul’s research with Tom Webster on the build-up of dioxins in the food chain, the series of video tapes co-produced with Roger Bailey, and countless speaking engagements.

Waking up last Tuesday morning, the day after the Legislature voted the project down, was like waking up in a new world. All of a sudden one could contemplate using one’s energy on positive things -like helping to work on a county-wide waste management plan we could be proud of, instead of the energy draining exercise of trying to stop a moving train greased by short-sighted officials and driven by out-of-state consultants.

Perhaps the most important message we have is the confirmation of the advice so effectively shared by Lois Gibbs and the other good folks at the Citizens Clearing House for Hazardous Waste, which is:
you don’t win these battles with experts, with lawyers, or with the regulatory process, you win these projects by working together to educate the community on the issue and by using the political process. Local politicians must be held accountable for local planning decisions that impact greatly on the community -- they must not be allowed to hide behind unelected ‘Authorities’ or faceless state bureaucrats.

We had to relearn this message the hard way. We struggled for 5 1/2 years to get the scientific issues addressed by the regulators. We presented mountains of material. We had experts from around the country and from around the world ready to testify on these issues. But, the regulatory process, controlled by state agencies promoting incineration and aided by extremely expensive law firms and consultants, never allowed the citizens one moment in court. The political fix was in. Now the political fix is out, thanks to the simultaneous efforts on the political front (7 of the 11 legislators who voted against the incinerator were voted into office in November 1989), and to a community which made it happen: county business people who studied the incinerator contracts and economics, the St. Lawrence County Medical Society which passed resolutions in 1988 and again in 1989 urging the County Legislature to place a moratorium on the incinerator, the largest hauler in the county who persisted with litigation against the trash authority just for the right to recycle and compost, to the small hauler who encouraged his customers to recycle, the young mothers in the county who formed MOMI - Mothers Opposed to Mass Incineration, the farmers in FAIR - Farmers Against Incineration of Refuse, our eye doctors, dentists, teachers, nurses, artists, musicians, shopkeepers, middle school and high school students, the county’s League of Women Voters, the Mayor and Board of Trustees of the Village of Canton, the Town Council of Lisbon, the Unitarian-Universalist church in Canton which opened its doors to 5 l/2 years of Work on Waste-St. Lawrence County’s weekly meetings, press conferences, and events, and to the 5 1/2 years of extraordinary efforts from individuals in the county’s WOW group who worked endless hours to educate the community. Special recognition has to be made of Rachel Grant, of Canton, who became the best organizer WOW had. Rachel doled out assignments to the group as only a beloved teacher could, mediated strategy conflicts, and encouraged us with her “We will win” attitude. Rachel died at the age of 41 on June 1, 1990, from breast cancer. She was a mother of two sons aged 10 and 12, a wife, and a University English teacher. It was Rachel who pushed us all to campaign for new county Legislators in the November 1989 election. And it was those Legislators that defeated the county’s incinerator.

Conclusion: In matters of environmental regulation, science is good for one thing only: to convince your key allies in the political fight that you are on solid ground. If that sounds defeatist coming from a scientist, it is not. While we are appalled that the key regulatory agencies which are supposed to be protecting our health and environment are more beholden to political and industrial pressures than they are to science, we will continue to work to bring science back into government. Meanwhile we have to stress the importance of working together to educate our communities and to work politically at the grass-roots level until genuine leadership emerges with backbone enough to stand up to polluting corporations and the multi-billion dollar waste industry.

Thanks to so many of you who helped us, especially those who came to the county, including: Pete Seeger, who performed a benefit concert in 1989 to stop the incinerator; Lois Gibbs, whose talk in 1989 inspired the formation of the MOMI group the day after she left; Dan Knapp, who told us in 1986 how to recycle successfully; Tom Webster, who came twice in 1987 and 1988 to testify about the underestimation of risks in the incinerator Health Risk Assessment (HRA) --and was allowed only 5 minutes to speak-- and who gave public presentations on the county’s incinerator HRA; Neil Seldman, who gave an inspiring talk in 1986; Persis Grover, who came to the county in 1986 to tell us about what it was like to live next to the incinerator ashfill in Auburn, ME; Mal Didio, who spoke about the problems at the Rome, NY, incinerator; Howard & Christine Rose, who came up twice to speak about the problems of the Oswego, NY, incinerator; Kurt McCormack, a state representative from Vermont, who spoke at the June 1990 county Legislative meeting about the bankrupt Rutland incinerator; Charlie Valentine, from Rodman, NY, who told us how Rodman recycles 60% of their wastes; Ann & Roger Tibbitts, who in the middle of an intense battle to stop an 1100 acre landfill proposed for the wonderful town of Rodman, came up on several occasions to support WOWs efforts; Ken Forrest and all our other friends from the People Opposed to Waste Incineration group from Maitland, Canada, who told our Legislators and trash authority members that they did not want to suffer the trans-boundary pollution from the county’s incinerator; Gardner Congdon, a town supervisor from S.Glens Falls, NY; Daniel Wartenburg, who came up in 1986 to testify at one of several public hearings on the incinerator; Paul Burns, of Recycle First from Syracuse and Marie Austin, a town council member opposed to the Oswego incinerator, who gave presentations; Lee Wasserman, of NYs Environmental Planning Lobby, who gave a press conference on why EPL has opposed incineration in NY since 1985; Walter Hang, then with the New York Public Interest Group, who debated two pro-incinerator officials in 1987, and whose talk inspired Rachel Grant to work with WOW; Jay Palter, who held a dynamite Greenpeace press conference; Brian Lipsett, of CCHW; The Public Interest Law Firm of Syracuse University and lawyers Mark Lohbauer from NJ and Lou Oliver from Albany who represented WOW; Dr. Albert Schecter and Peter Montague, who reviewed the county’s risk assessment; Glenn McClure who entertained us with his great garbage concert; George Baggett from Kansas City, MO, who was at the Connett’s home the last two chaotic days of the Nov. 1989 election campaign and who helped WOW leaflet; and an 11th-hour letter from Ralph Nader to our County Legislators which was read at their July 9, 1990, Legislative meeting, urging Legislators to vote against the incinerator bonds.

WASTE NOT # 111 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year, annual rates are: Individual & Non-Profits $35; Student & Seniors $25; Consultants & For-Profits $100; Canadian Subscriptions $US40. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.