Ulster County Legislature approves solid-waste management plan

Seneca Meadows, destination for garbage from Ulster County (and many other places).  The new solid waste plan calls for the county to consider alternatives to sending its garbage four hours away. (Photo by Will Dendis)

The Ulster County Legislature unanimously approved a 10-year local solid waste management plan, which calls for the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency to review waste diversion strategies and alternative ways to approach the goal of zero waste in Ulster County.

The plan includes looking at the creation of a new local landfill. Currently the 130,000 or so tons of waste Ulster generates annually travels four hours to Seneca Meadows landfill in Waterloo, New York, over 200 miles away. The resolution states that the continued availability at the Seneca Meadows landfill is “uncertain” and has been “relatively expensive and damaging to the environment.”

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The engineering firm Cornerstone assisted the county on the plan. It said a local landfill would “help to bring stabilization of transportation and disposal costs to the agency.” It would come with decreased trucking costs and lower fuel consumption, leading to an immediate cost savings.

According to Cornerstone, constructing a landfill could cost as much as $40 million, with expenses including property acquisition, design, construction and maintenance. In recent years, the county has tentatively looked at possible sites. It identified 100 parcels of land as potential properties within Ulster County, but only 73 were evaluated.

A local landfill, while the most likely to draw the interest of residents (particularly those near potential sites), isn’t the only aspect of the plan. It also highlights other alternatives like different waste export options, better use of composting, creating energy from waste, using thermal processes, and increased recycling.

The legislation has been “a very long process,” according to legislator Laura Petit. She also said that she wants to hold the solid waste authority accountable for making sure it is doing everything it can to promote zero waste.

Last year’s resolution declared Ulster County a zero-waste community, requiring it to “research measures to reduce the generation of waste by the county and its constituent residents, businesses and municipalities.”

A number of alternative solid waste management strategies that would be more environmentally friendly and efficient were recognized. This includes self-reliance, regionalization through cooperation with other counties and alternative technologies.

The goals of the Local Solid Waste Management Plan include nine items focusing on being environmentally friendly to head toward zero waste, engaging with state agencies and other authorities for management programs, encouraging smart purchasing and maintenance and aiming for a system that is sustainable and self-reliant with a whole waste cycle.

Every two years the plan is subject to review and amendments. Also every two years, the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency will submit updates to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.