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Consultant backs Finch Paper bid for Saratoga County landfill

Board may approve sale at June 18 meeting

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
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— It looks like Finch Paper will be the next owner of the Saratoga County landfill in Northumberland.

The county Public Works Committee on Tuesday unanimously recommended a proposal by the Glens Falls paper manufacturer over those of two other companies interested in buying the unused landfill.

Finch already operates a paper mill sludge landfill on adjoining land and would merge the two landfills into a single facility that would accept paper mill sludge and municipal waste.

The plan calls for Northumberland to receive as much as $200,000 per year as a host community benefit payment and for the county to receive a share of the annual revenue and split it with its towns, villages and cities.

“The Finch proposal is the one best suited to provide the greatest long-term benefit to the people of Saratoga County,” said Hans Arnold of Gerhardt LLC of Utica, the county’s landfill consultant.

Tuesday’s vote sends the proposed sale to the county board’s Law and Finance Committee this afternoon, and to the full Board of Supervisors for a final vote June 18 in Ballston Spa.

The county began the process of looking for buyers for the empty landfill in early 2012, as officials were looking for new ways to generate revenue to address a budget crunch. Since October, county officials have been reviewing the three proposals and negotiating with Finch, Casella Resource Solutions of Rutland, Vt., and national waste disposal firm Waste Connections, which also owns a landfill in Colonie.

The final decision came down to a choice between Finch and Waste Connections, which wanted to eventually expand the current 23-acre landfill to 204 acres. But Arnold, in an evaluation, expressed doubt Waste Connections could win state Department of Environmental Conservation approval for such a large expansion, given environmental concerns and possible public opposition.

Northumberland officials said they would fight a major expansion.

“It would start a battle of wills and a battle of lawyers that would easily go for a decade,” said Northumberland town Supervisor Bill Peck.

Peck said many residents remember the bitter fight in the 1990s to keep both the Finch and county landfills from being built. The town lost both fights after years of litigation. Finch opened its landfill, and it is now nearly full, while the county built its landfill from 1998 to 2000 but has never used it. The county spent about $10 million on construction, engineering, land acquisition and legal costs.

Given the alternatives, the Finch proposal is the best for the town, Peck said.

“The town of Northumberland will be supporting the Finch Paper proposal,” he said.

Under the proposal, Finch will pay the county $4 million as soon as DEC agrees to allow sludge to be dumped in the county landfill and $2 million more if it gets state permission to fill the 6.6 acres between the two landfills.

Beyond that, Finch will split any tipping fee revenue above $38 per ton with the county. The company estimates the current average tipping fee in the region at $55 per ton, so Finch and the county would split the $17-per-ton profit.

The landfill would be allowed to take as much as 250,000 tons per year of municipal waste, in addition to paper sludge. Based on current revenue projections, the fee split would yield about $1.5 million a year for the county, Arnold said.

The supervisors’ landfill sale subcommittee recommended half that money be shared with municipalities, using the existing sales tax distribution formula. That would mean about $750,000 being distributed to the municipalities each year.

“A lot of us have lived with this and gone through a lot of stress over it, and we felt this was a way for the towns too to benefit,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, R-Charlton, who also chairs the landfill sale subcommittee.

He said Finch’s need for a disposal site and the protection of the 2,200 jobs it directly or indirectly supports was also a factor in the recommendation.

“The jobs were a very important factor for us to look at,” Grattidge said.

“We’re very pleased,” said Finch Paper spokesman John Brodt. “From the Finch perspective, it’s very important for us.”

He said the company is very confident it can attract municipal waste haulers to the landfill, given more than 1 million tons of waste per year is now trucked from the Capital Region to landfills in western New York because of lack of disposal capacity here.

Public Works Committee Chairwoman Jean Raymond, R-Edinburg, said the Waste Management proposal, though it would have generated a larger, $7.5 million up-front payment, would have drawn significant public opposition.

“I don’t think any one of us was comfortable with the concept of a mega-landfill,” she said.

The board’s Law and Finance Committee will discuss the proposal at 4 this afternoon in Ballston Spa.

 
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