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Trash heap a threat to Schenectady hillside stability

Trash heap a threat to Schenectady hillside stability

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

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.

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