Letter to Governor Hochul Re: SMI Landfill

The Honorable Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Re: Call for Denial of Part 360 Permit Modification for the “Valley Infill” Expansion at Seneca Meadows Landfill, Seneca Falls, New York
Dear Governor Hochul,

The undersigned urge you to direct the Department of Environmental Conservation to deny the Permit Modification for Seneca Meadows, Inc.’s “Valley Infill” expansion at SMI’s landfill in Seneca Falls, New York.  Despite a DEC Part 360 Permit to operate until 2025 and Seneca Falls Local Law #3 requiring the landfill to close in 2025, SMI is seeking DEC authorization to extend the life of its landfill to 2040, increase its vertical height by an additional 70 feet into the viewscape, and cover the former Tantalo Landfill, a state superfund site.

We are gravely concerned that failure to close SMI’s Seneca Meadows landfill by 2025 will adversely and irreversibly impact the vibrant wine and tourism industry in the region, prevent sustainable businesses from retaining and recruiting employees, degrade the pastoral nature of the New York’s Finger Lakes, and damage the vital natural resources on which we residents of the Finger Lakes rely. As the landfill aims to increase its waste disposal operations in the Finger Lakes, the negative impacts on the public become too burdensome to bear.

Currently, SMI accepts 6,000 tons of garbage per day six days a week, and produces 100,000 gallons of landfill leachate daily.  The landfill’s leachate is processed and passed through our and others waste water treatment plants, and into our lakes and rivers. Leachate and wastewater runoff containing PFAS are being deposited in our local waterbodies.

SMI is the largest active landfill in New York State drawing trash from 4 states and New York City. SMI’s landfill is already the final resting place for more than 50-million-tons of trash. Even with the planned closure in 2025, this mountain of garbage promises years of environmental problems and remediation that could literally take generations to address.

SMI’s landfill is located 2 miles from the Seneca River and within 3 miles from every school in Seneca Falls and Waterloo.  Our children and students are exposed to airborne particulates and landfill gases which contribute to increased respiratory illnesses, asthma, and migraine headaches, among other maladies. Methane collection and controls are inadequate for the size of the present landfill, and fugitive gases contribute to climate change.

This is not only a problem for Waterloo or Seneca Falls, it is a region-wide issue, impacting Geneva, Auburn, Skaneateles and beyond. 75 tractor trailer trucks a day pass over our roads and through Seneca Falls’ historic downtown daily, where truck noise and odors are constant as trucks que up for the morning opening of the scales. SMI’s enormous and offensive waste disposal operations have become incompatible with the large number of residences in the surrounding towns, our important location as the Northern Gateway to the Finger Lakes, and our historic position as the Birthplace of Women’s Rights.

Despite years of complaints and reams of documentation, SMI has acknowledged but refuses to address the constant stream of odor complaints received. When complaints are lodged, they are regularly discredited by SMI’s employees.  Yet these near constant odors prevent residents and families from going outside to recreate, holding outdoor barbecues, or even keeping their windows open in the summer. These obnoxious odors persist even in the middle of the night and on Sundays, and the smell at Thruway exit 41, permeates vehicular traffic.

Existing companies and businesses seeking to expand and recruit employees to the area are having great difficulty doing so, as prospective hires almost always express concerns about the landfill’s odors, exposure to pollution, and fear of raising their families near the landfill.

Through the years, SMI has entrenched itself in local politics. This past November, Seneca Meadows’ parent company, Waste Connections, contributed over $200,000.00 in PAC money to successfully influence elections and elect candidates favoring Seneca Meadows. This silent management by campaign professionals and dark money secured seats on Town Board and County races.  Town and county employees are in fear of losing their jobs due to their political affiliation or opposition to the landfill.  Local businesses contributing to community fundraisers to oppose the landfill have been intimidated and threatened by SMI. SMI regularly donates to local businesses and not-for-profits, and brands itself as a “Valued Partner, Trusted Neighbor” through endless propaganda mailers and flashy media releases.  Yet SMI continues to litigate with the Town of Seneca Falls. We have lost home rule.

A number of the elements in the Finger Lakes dynamically interact to form the region’s community character, including the role of natural beauty and an agricultural landscape, specifically a viticultural landscape, which is central to the Finger Lakes region’s sense of place over time and to the branding of the emerging tourism economy. Our area is consciously pursuing economic development strategies—especially recreation and agri-tourism—that will enable us to preserve these aesthetic and environmental values that are core to the high quality of life enjoyed here.  Of note is that American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) are federally designated economic zones that have a substantive economic and social context that define them as a region. They are cultural landscapes that have, as their community character, an historical and contemporary economic and social coherence. The scenic landscape of vineyards and wineries of the Finger Lakes AVA and Seneca Lake AVA is a visual and perceptual image of the region’s community character.

The Finger Lakes is also currently being considered by Congress for a National Heritage Designation.
As the region draws nationally and internationally recognized winemakers, supports over 58,000 jobs, and generates over $3 Billion in annual economic activity for New York State, we urge you to consider the investments and the livelihoods that many of us have spent generations building and which are now at risk should SMI’s landfill be permitted to expand and continue operating beyond 2025.
Despite these accomplishments and accolades, the Finger Lakes has continuously had to fight to sustain and protect its clean air, water, and thriving agri-tourism economy from predatory corporations seeking to exploit our natural resources (e.g., from gas storage, to garbage incinerators, Bitcoin, SMI’s landfill, etc.).  In response to all these threats, we’ve grown into a tight-knit community, but we're at a critical tipping point and at the crossroads of determining which way our region will go, and we need your strong leadership. Can we count on your support in promoting sustainable jobs compatible with our existing businesses and agri-tourism industry, in an area where families will want to live and raise their children, or will you side with these exploitative and extractive industries that put all we hold dear in peril?  
We call upon you, Governor Hochul, to stop this unreasonable assault on our air and water in the Finger Lakes. Seneca Falls should be recognized as the birthplace of Women’s Rights, not home of the largest landfill in the Northeast. The people of the Finger Lakes region are counting on you to instruct the Department of Environmental Conservation to deny SMI’s application to modify its Part 360 Permit for the “Valley Infill” expansion so that the landfill can close in 2025 as originally planned, rather than leave an even greater legacy of pollution and negative health impacts for generations to come.
Signed ,

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Ovid, NY 14521 *
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