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Schumer, Gillibrand Want Potential Risks Evaluated At Proposed Schuyler Co. Waste Facility

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — New York U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate potential environmental risks associated with a proposed waste management facility in Schuyler County.

The facility would sit south of Seneca Lake in the town of Cayuta. According to Bob Mente, the owner of Alternative Waste Services in Newfield, which would operate the facility, it would bring in construction debris and municipal solid waste for recycling.

In October, the Schuyler County Legislature passed a resolution opposing a permit for the facility. Members of the legislature asked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to conduct a “full, fair and exhaustive” environmental review of the facility before approving the application.

According to county officials, residents expressed concerns about the effects of truck traffic and potential pollutants coming from the facility on human health, agriculture, and tourism.

Senators Schumer and Gillibrand echoed those concerns in a letter addressed to Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District Commander Lieutenant Colonel Eli Adams, urging him to investigate any potential negative effects the facility could have on nearby federal wetlands and state parks.

Protected natural lands near the proposed facility include Watkins Glen State Park, Newfield State Forest, and, at the northern tip of Seneca Lake, the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, a marshland area the federal government purchased in 1937. It was established as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that transparency about all environmental risks is critical to protect nearby waterways and the local economies they support.

“Seneca Lake, Cayuta Lake, and the entire Susquehanna River Basin watershed are beautiful New York destinations and preserving them isn’t just good for our communities, it’s good for our economy,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “We have already seen the terrible consequences of poor water quality on communities across New York and we can’t afford to repeat our mistakes.”

In October, Mente told WSKG that the facility is “100 percent designed to help the environment,” by reusing and extracting materials currently buried in landfills.

In regard to concerns about truck traffic, Mente said he amended the application to change the direction of traffic flow. Materials that can’t be recycled will be taken to landfills in Steuben and Chemung counties, not Seneca Meadows as was first discussed.

“I really don’t have a problem with the legislature and what they’re trying to do,” Mente said. “The problem is that the misleading information that’s out there has made them take this avenue.”

The Newfield-based business owner filed his initial permit application with the DEC in January 2020. According to Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman, the members of the legislature only learned about the proposal in September, when the DEC accepted public comments on the facility.

Environmental advocates in the Finger Lakes have raised concerns about damage to the region’s agriculture, as well as the presence of PFAS chemicals in wastewater produced by the facility. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS chemicals are linked to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer and thyroid hormone disruption.

“Every New Yorker deserves clean water and a hazard-free community,” said Senator Schumer.

In the letter to Lieutenant Colonel Adams, the Democrats wrote that the location of the proposed facility could have an outsized adverse impact on the adjacent Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area and nearby Seneca Lake.

“These popular tourist and recreation areas are key to the economic vibrancy of other small towns in Schuyler County,” they stressed. “More to the point, the project could negatively impact wetlands that sit atop or adjacent to the proposed site and flow into the larger Susquehanna River Basin watershed.”

According to the DEC, the agency and the applicant mutually agreed to suspend the regulatory deadlines of permit approval for the facility until Feb. 22 so that the DEC may determine if a hearing should be held. They also suspended the deadline for DEC to determine whether the permit should be issued or denied.