SMI opponents fight for ‘quality of life’

It’s a fight for life as Seneca Falls residents know it.As Seneca Meadows and Finger Lakes Railway plan expansions, opponents of both believe that expanding operations for Finger Lakes Railway will have an overwhelming impact on their way of life. It isn’t just something that has gained attention in the immediate region, though. In just over a week, a Change.org petition has gained more than 950 signatures — a few of which are from outside the area.Joanne Elliot is a Seneca Falls resident who has been fighting what she describes as an uphill battle to preserve life as she and others know it around the landfill. Elliot said to FingerLakes1.com, “I truly feel like I am fighting for my quality of life, health, property values, community footprint and regional future.” Her sentiments are shared by many, including the roughly 40 individuals who showed up at the rail siding tour to protest when the tour took place.Seneca Meadows has been pursuing a contract with New York City, which would allow for more trash to make it’s way up to the landfill located on State Route 414 between Seneca Falls and Waterloo. That remains an uncertainty though, as the chorus against Seneca Meadows expansion continues to grow larger. The current host agreement is set to expire in 2023 with an operating permit expiring in 2017.It’s time for our local politicians to dig into the fight, according to Elliot. She believes that our elected officials, both past and present, have only seen mixed results when combating Seneca Meadows because of the politics that are involved. There’s also the matter of a benefit to the community, which Seneca Meadows says to have. However, opponents of the landfill contest the notion that Seneca Meadows does anything currently for the surrounding communities.Opponents also believe that there is a problem with certain issues being underreported, or going unreported altogether. One example of this is the odor problem, which Seneca Meadows says they deal with the best they can — and often explain away with mechanical issues at the facility. “When Seneca Meadows deploys their ‘Odor Response Team’ they never smell anything,” Elliot told FingerLakes1.com. Opponents as a whole, and even those who have remained silent on the issue believe this is a problem. According to the group of individuals we talked to, this plays a part in what actually becomes reported to entities like the DEC or Seneca Falls Town Board, who has ultimate oversight of the facility and business. They say odor is a certain sign of non-compliance with the host agreement, local law, and regulatory law.The question many have is simple: How do these issues — particularly the odor — fly under the radar without getting more documented attention?The answer is complex. However, opponents say self-reporting is a definite issue. A significant number of local politicians, at the village, town, and county level throughout Seneca County have voiced concerns about what Seneca Meadows operation. Furthermore, many have come right out in opposition to the expansion plans. It hasn’t stopped with local politicians, though, as Sen. Mike Nozzolio, Assemb. Brian Kolb and Assemb. Phil Palmesano issued a joint statement in opposition to the continued operation of the landfill on Wednesday. It’s a sign of momentum, which many in Seneca Falls hope continues.The statement read in part, “Although we may have personal objections to the operation of a business, as legislators, we do not have the legal authority or jurisdiction to force the closure of a business that is operating within the legal bounds of its license or permit.” It continued, “The question of licensure and regulation are exclusively within the executive branch of government and, in the case of Seneca Meadows, with the DEC. Just as we could not demand the closure of any business that is operating within the appropriate laws and regulations of the state, such as ITT Goulds Pumps, we are forbidden by law to demand the closure of Seneca Meadows if it is operating within the strictures of its permit.”While the statement is a nice gesture, it doesn’t go far enough when opponents believe wholeheartedly that there are violations of town and county codes. For example, the town and county both have codes against odor. It is even was a part of the original host agreement, which remains in effect until 2023.Lee Bieber, the developer behind the major changes in downtown Waterloo shares a similar disappointment with the sheer volume of trash being moved throughout the area due to Seneca Meadows. He called the decision to allow for trash to come up from New York City, “a truly disastrous one.” Bieber added that “it’s a really big problem and whomever gave Seneca Meadows a pass years ago to ramp up operations to this point really sold out the Finger Lakes.”Speaking to what Seneca Meadows should have to do, he urged residents and politicians to not let Seneca Meadows impact quality of life. “Seneca Meadows must do all they can to no impact the region in a negative way,” he said. Seneca Meadows says that this will not impact the amount of trash the facility takes in on a daily basis. They point out that ultimately, while an expansion would allow for the landfill to continue operating into future decades — the actual operation of the landfill cannot change. Taking more trash from New York City, according to Seneca Meadows, will mean less garbage to be taken in from other areas.It isn’t only the garbage though that has the surrounding communities on edge. There’s a problem with the ramped up railway traffic, which opponents of the Seneca Meadows and Finger Lakes Railway expansions say is already having an impact on local infrastructure. These opponents are referring to railway tracks, which in their view are not prepared to handle the kind of volume, weight and traffic they will receive in the coming years.Another problem with the existing railway traffic, which would only stand to increase with the greater number of products being moved across rail is the speed at which they travel. Opponents say that while a 10 mph speed limit exists generally in the Seneca Falls area, a 5 mph speed limit must be adhered to in residential areas. They contest that the speed limits are not being obeyed throughout the Town of Seneca Falls, which invites additional problems, as those who live close to the railway argue that long-term structural damage to their homes will be possible.This week the fight will pick up steam, as Seneca Falls hold their Town Board meeting on Tuesday, which will be followed — a week later — by the Seneca County Board of Supervisors meeting on March 8th.FingerLakes1.com will have coverage of this issue from the upcoming board meeting in Seneca Falls on Tuesday, March 1st.

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