September 20, 2006

Future of Landfill Debated

A landfill project that has caused a public uproar and cost the Town of Riverhead $40 million was the subject of scrutiny once again last week.

Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale called a special work session last Wednesday so that the town board could meet with the project's engineers Fannings, Phillips and Molner and pose questions regarding the work the firm has done for the town prior to making any decisions about how to proceed.

At the work session, Cardinale went over a timeline that covered recent history of the landfill project. In August, Riverhead received an extension letter from the DEC allowing them until February to come to a conclusion about whether to proceed with reclamation, capping, or a hybrid solution that would involve sale of recyclables such as sand from the site.

Cardinale wanted the board to have a chance to speak directly to reviewing engineers FPM, who were reviewing Young & Young's work.

In July, after months of public outcry, the furor over the Riverhead landfill escalated to a fever pitch and resulted in the project's contractors, Grimes Contracting Co, Inc., getting thrown off the job.

At that point, the board met to discuss the controversial Young's Avenue landfill reclamation project as well as findings from an outside engineering and auditing firm that sought to provide answers to problems that have ended up costing the town a total of $40 million, so far.

The project began over a decade ago after a court-mandate ordered the town to shut down its landfill.

In the years since, reclamation was intended to clean up the landfill by removing all the garbage. Once reclaimed, the town planned to use the property for a park or possibly sell the parcel's development rights. Capping the landfill, as many municipalities do, would have meant reclamation and development were not options.

The project hit a roadblock when it was learned that the cost for reclamation would be substantially more than originally estimated after the town learned there appeared to be more garbage than was first anticipated.

Cardinale informed concerned residents that the town was investigating the situation. It turned out that the quantity of material mined and removed from the landfill equals just under 1 million cubic feet.

However, the key question remained: What's left? And although it was originally anticipated that 1.3 to 1.5 million cubic feet of material was to be removed, the actual volume was closer to 3 million cubic feet. And, said Cardinale, there is "just under 2 million cubic yards of compacted refuse and recyclables remaining."

Other questions remained unanswered in July, including the estimated cost of capping the landfill and whether "sound, reasonable judgment" was used by operating engineers.

Cardinale and the board discussed answers to two questions — the cost of capping the landfill, and whether the operating engineers used the reasonable standards prevalent in the profession — when they made their initial cost estimates on Wednesday.

The supervisor said it was not possible to determine the cost of capping the landfill "within a 10 percent variable" without a site-specific capping study.

The board also discussed whether a hybrid solution should be pursued, whereby recyclables, such as sand, which is 70 percent by weight and 40 percent by volume, be removed and sold.

"That question is now being studied," said Cardinale, as is the price.

FPM decided not to do the design for capping themselves; an RFP was put out to five engineering firms on Monday. An RFP for landfills was put out in August and four firms replied.

"We're either going to have to cap or reclaim the balance or do a combination of both. Those are our options if we proceed as a town," said Cardinale. "We're looking for some private ideas, with the help of private industry, to make this bad situation better."

The supervisor said that while no decisions have been reached, he has some tentative conclusions: "If you evaluate the expenditure of money on the project, two thirds of the funds spent were to transport the residual waste, which is only 25 percent of the weight, and 50 to 60 percent of the volume, off site. I don't believe that it makes any sense to continue with that. It's just too expensive."

That would leave the town with the alternatives of either capping or a hybrid. "That is probably the direction, absent a creative proposal from private industry under the RFP," said Cardinale. If a private party could reclaim for a great deal less, the town would give them two things of value — sand, which could have a value of $12 million, as well as the ability to transfer development rights, as many as four per acre, to a sewerage site within the town.

"We're hopeful that private industries will find those two revenue sources attractive by a creative and beneficial response to the RFP," he said.

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