Reader, you may not have noticed or counted it, but I did.
The misnamed “Seneca Meadows” landfill ran hard-to-miss ads in the Finger Lakes Times. These were full-page in color. For five weeks (from Saturday March 26 to today May 21), the ads appeared in five editions of FLT. Because four were Saturday-Sunday editions, these four newspapers were on newsstands for nine days.
If you happened to observe, like me, some ads were identical. The title for March was SENECA MEADOWS A valued partner and trusted neighbor for over 30 years! April’s title was SENECA MEADOWS FACT CHECK.
As children, we were raised to value honesty. The adults asked us to be truthful, and therefore trustworthy. We eventually discovered that when we were guilty, we could avoid the consequences by withholding information. By not telling the whole truth, one could insist “I am not lying! Nevertheless, we tried to deceive. Rightly, jurors are asked, “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
Seneca Meadows ads demonstrate a genius for deception by omission. SMI is not the “trusted neighbor” it falsely claims to be. Do you know that SMI’s owning mega-corporation, Waste Management, is based in a distant state (Texas) and country (Canada)?
Our State’s Biggest Discharge Claims:
• “Seneca Meadows operates in one of the most regulated industries in the country.” My God, this is amazing. What is the whole truth?
The landfill failed to meet industry regulations for years. Countless citizens, including me, have strongly protested the foul odors of SMI affecting our daily quality of life. The uncontrolled odors violated the host community of Seneca Falls’ 2008 agreement with SMI, an inconvenient truth for the company. In 2014, SMI first sued the city. Their second trial is ongoing. Do trusted neighbors sue their neighbors? In 2016, the Seneca Falls City Council bravely passed a law requiring SMI to close by 2025 – a David vs. Goliath story.
• “Our future is bright. The Valley Infill plan will allow us to operate safely for another 15 years, without expanding our footprint. Wow, the dump is not growing! Think again. What is the whole truth?
Waste management will not extend outwards. It will stretch upwards – seven floors. The towering mountains of SMI waste are visible from space. The valley infill site was once a designated superfund site. Filled in, using liners for attenuation, it would become another mountain.
A skeptical friend comments: “Ask Camp Lejeune and Johnson City if it works well. Observing SMI’s promise to “operate safely” for another 15 years, she continues, “I wonder who has a crystal ball.”
While Waste Management anticipates 2037, the company remains silent on the law mandating closure by 2025. To tell the truth, FLT columnist Jackie Augustine points out that SMI spokesperson Kyle Black has publicly assured people that the law would be repealed.
• “Seneca Meadows leachate is treated by our on-site treatment plant prior to final treatment at the Seneca Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant. It’s incredible! Awesome! What is the whole truth?
The statement is not credible. After reaching the sewage treatment plant via an outdated Fall Street pipeline often in need of repairs last winter, the leachate receives NO testing or final treatment at the plant. Uncovering this hidden fact was not easy. It took a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIL, request from Brad Jones, co-founder of the Seneca Falls Environmental Action Committee, to learn the truth about the leachate (normally the town clerk responds to FOIL queries, but for this politically sensitive topic, City Supervisor Mike Ferrara has taken charge).
Where are things now? Fortunately, I can point to two important developments.
First, concerned citizens feel empowered. Years ago, people discovered that reporting a landfill stench was pointless. Because it is difficult to provide evidence of odors, however harmful, the problem could be overlooked. Rejecting water quality is much more difficult. Water can be tested for PFAS; levels can be quantified; and acceptable levels argued.
FLT reporter David Shaw shed some light on the issue on April 9.
The last SF water test was in 2018. Over the past four years, how much damage has inaction caused? Jean Gilroy, whose property adjoins Black Brook, has been working on the issue. Dave Shaw quotes Jean. “This is a five alarm fire. We need to test streams, streams, groundwater, SMI runoff and leachate. We need answers to properly assess the threat.
While updated SF water testing is planned, that might not happen anytime soon. In order for SMI to obtain a license to operate for another 15 years, the state Department of Environmental Conservation must first make an environmental impact statement. After that, a public hearing is required. The hearing will be moderated if the DEC-approved scope of work does not include PFAS testing.
Today, concerned citizens are ready to step up and hold elected leaders accountable – especially those who have received significant campaign contributions from SMI’s Deep Pockets. They would be Ferrara and city councilors Dawn Dyson, Frank Sinicropi and Kaitlyn Laskoski. All received a notification that in March SF was listed as an environmentally “disadvantaged community”. You may want to ask them for the source and criteria for this.
In a second significant development, conservationists from across the region are connecting and collaborating across county borders. With powerful allies working together, it’s no longer a David vs. Goliath story.
Joining Seneca Lake Guardian (leader of a petition with 1,000 signatures), Earthjustice and the Sierra Club would be welcome partners in a shared vision of a healthy Finger Lakes.
Fact: The Finger Lakes region is home to only 6% of the state’s population, yet it is considered an invaluable environmental and cultural treasure around the world. Will Seneca Meadows become another infamous New York State environmental disaster – after Love Canal and Hoosick Falls?
Reverend Allison Stokes holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. She is a founding member of the Seneca Falls Environmental Action Committee and founder of the Women’s Interfaith Institute. A non-profit organization that is no longer active, the Institute sold the historic Wesleyan Church in Seneca Falls in February.