Trash heap a threat to Schenectady hillside stability

Site near I-890 could collapse

Saturday, March 14, 2009
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A view from the Church of St. Adalbert's property looking toward the Broadway entrance ramp to Interstate 890 shows some of the debris being piled on the hillside.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
A view from the Church of St. Adalbert's property looking toward the Broadway entrance ramp to Interstate 890 shows some of the debris being piled on the hillside.

— The growing landfill above Interstate 890 is no longer just an eyesore.

Illegal dumpers are throwing tons of construction debris onto an unstable hill that could collapse, city Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said.

“It’s a bigger problem than the litter because there’s soil instability,” he said. “And then with the ice storm, we lost trees and roots, which more than likely creates more instability issues because the vegetation holds the soil.”

And the snow has just melted, adding even more water to a hill that is well-saturated by underground streams and springs. The water acts as a lubricant, allowing soil to slough off the hill.

“It’s not a good thing,” Olsen said. “You certainly don’t want that corridor looking like a landfill … but going in to remove the trash and trees can create even more soil instability.”

In 2007, a DOT excavator was buried beneath tons of soil at the bottom of the hillside. The DOT was preparing to repair a culvert underneath the highway at the time.

No one was hurt, but workers were forced to remove 3,500 cubic meters of soil and bring in more than 7,000 tons of rock to stabilize the hillside before work inside the culvert could commence.

The Broadway side of the hill has also collapsed in recent years. FEMA spent $1.125 million to stabilize the hill after it began to slough away in 2004, carrying a house porch with it.

Five houses had to be demolished over the next eight years to keep the hill in place.

Engineers determined that the weight piled on the top of the hill — from porches, fill and tons of garbage — caused the hill to crack and slide. That’s what makes the amount of garbage on the hill over I-890 such a concern.

Last year, Olsen’s Schenectady Neighborhood Action crew pulled 55 tons of trash off of that portion of the hill, most of it on the Mont Pleasant side. The main dumping point appears to be a parking lot near the Church of St. Adalbert, which overlooks the bluff.

But some people are dumping from the Strong Street side of the hill as well. The SNAP crew picked up 15 tons of garbage on that side last year, Olsen said. Cleaning the entire area took two weeks.

He wants the dumpers caught and prosecuted, but he and Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden agree that that’s unlikely.

“It’s an absolute prosecutorial nightmare,” Van Norden said. “Unless you’ve got someone out there with infrared goggles in the middle of the night, you’re not going to be able to prove who did it.”

At times, city workers have searched dumped garbage for any proof of ownership — such as bill statements or letters — but in this case, there’s not much identifiable material, Van Norden said.

“The stuff that gets dumped over the back of this is usually C&D material. It doesn’t have anybody’s name on it,” he said, referring to construction and demolition material, typically stone and wood from renovation projects.

Much of the debris is piled on the city side of fences that enclose private residences, but Van Norden said he can’t simply assume the owners tossed the debris.

“The challenge is, can you prove it was the person living in the house?” he said. “They could say someone came in the middle of the night.”

But considering the hazard, both to the public if the hill collapses and to the workers who must venture onto the unstable slope to remove the garbage, those residents may become liable for the trash.

Van Norden said he may ask the Schenectady City Council to pass a local law making those owners responsible for any material dumped on city land behind their properties.

The owners would have to pay the city for cleanup under that law unless they could prove that they hadn’t dumped the trash, Van Norden said.



March 14, 2009
7:15 a.m.
GrapeNutz says...

Scary for homeowners, most of whom probably are not responsible. And if low life scam artist pretend home improvement contractors sneak through at night when residents are sleeping, well how can a homeowner be responsible.

Something like this law could bankrupt St. Adalbert's parish.

Why can't the city put cameras up all over the place over there, let them see if homeowners are walking out their back doors, trash bag in hand, or if sneaks are coming around in the dead of night.

March 14, 2009
7:36 a.m.
JM says...

Since when does dumping trash on municipal land or state right of ways a FEMA bailout? Where has the City been all these years when it should have been enforcing the lawbreakers that deliberately dumped their junk over the bank? This is not an emergency created by an act of god but by lazy people breaking the law and condoned by their community. Even if it took decades, its still the responsibility of the City not the federal government otherwise we could all start our own little pile somewhere and claim its someone else's problem.

The City’s Public Safety Inspectors and Engineering Department could condemn all the houses because of imminent danger. Wind blown litter is one thing, trash and debris is another. This is a self created Schenectady mess not one for the Federal Government. One has to wonder how homeowner's insurance carriers view collapse due to proximity to an unstable self created landfill that is recognized today as a public nuisance in the newspaper? Schenectady is responsible to enforce the no dumping laws adjacent to 890 and any other state DOT routes. This trashing does not happen in a vacuum. Discovery of recent dumping requires removal not indifference to later realize that it has put properties at risk. Had their been vigilance, instead of indifference over the years, this discussion would not be taking place.

March 14, 2009
8:08 a.m.

This has been going on for years and is another example that contributes to the perception that Schenectady is nothing more than a dirty little city.

I say put the county inmates to work and get that mess along 890 cleaned up!

March 14, 2009
9:09 a.m.
deepthroat2010 says...

Sounds like a great clean up job for prisoners in schenectady county.

March 14, 2009
12:11 p.m.
schdy9403 says...

Responsibility for that trash on the side of I-890 falls under the responsibility of SNAP. A federally funded program to clean up our city- they have traditionally been the "budget" from the Fed to clean up. If you want to enforce the illegal dumping- any citizen should be rewarded for turning in those who break the law. If we care how our neighborhoods look then we should not allow things to be dumped- soda can or garbage bag. Tell your neighbors- "Clean up in front of your home, tighten up that trash can(s), and show some responsibility for where you live." Secondly, applaud the municipal employees out there picking up ANYTHING! They are your front lines for making sure the city does not look dilapidated like the Bronx. Havent been there? Take a drive there and you will think SCHDY is on its way there- but still has hope. Give the Waste and Neighborhood Revitalization Department your appraise, give them gloves, give them equipment- and we will clean up this city just the way we did after the storm of November. We blitzed this entire city from side to side, pole to pole and opened road after road. Nothing is too much for our department and we prove that every day.

March 14, 2009
12:14 p.m.
schdy9403 says...

Wake up people. Everyone looks to blame or cast judgment- go outside and start cleaning up as far as you can see- like they did in the old school. My trash is my neighbors trash and my neighborhood is my turf. You dump anything on my turf you will be lucky to drive off with all four tires juiced up. That's a neighbor. And that is community proactive cleanup.

March 14, 2009
12:55 p.m.
annarondac says...

There is negligence on all sides, but I'd like to add that all the regulations, rules, fees and taxes that are demanded to dump garbage is a great big part of the problem. People wouldn't find places to dump illegally if it were easier and cheaper to dump legally.

March 14, 2009
2:39 p.m.
martinben says...

Ahhhh...Mr. Olsen come look at River St were there is a quarter ton of Verizon phone books just dumped to soak up the rain.

Used to be that you provided our neighborhood a dumpster for or annual spring cleanup weekend. Now all we have is a quick peek at you as you drive by in your pick up. Did you even see the trash.

Are we to wait 'til hell freezes over to get our neighborhood free of this trash, free of the jerks that dump it?

Martin Byster

March 14, 2009
2:53 p.m.
martinben says...

annarondac ( no real name given ) says...
"...all the regulations, rules, fees and taxes that are demanded to dump garbage is a great big part of the problem. People wouldn't ... dump illegally if it were easier and cheaper to dump legally.

BULL!!! People who dump trash and garbage on public and other peoples property are jerks. Don't come to their defense with this poppycock.

March 14, 2009
4:05 p.m.
surftone99 says...

how do you prove you didnt do something?

March 15, 2009
11:07 a.m.
annarondac says...

Let's be nice folks. We all have opinions and it's okay to disagree. After all, we're still a free nation, barely.

March 15, 2009
5 p.m.
annarondac says...

That goes for you and your friend too. Seems like there are a lot of comments you don't like on here and I do see you love to name call. I left that at the playground years ago.

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