New Leb hires help to fight dump costs

NEW LEBANON — The town has retained the law firm of Young Sommer LLC to investigate the town’s claim against the county and others regarding the closing of a landfill in a former gravel pit on private property owned by Reginald L. Sherman, Jr. At stake is the question of who must shoulder the cost of completing closure of the landfill.

About six acres of the 12-acre property “were disturbed by waste disposal,” says a statement issued late last week by the town. The town says it never owned the site. But before 1981, New Lebanon paid an independent contractor who managed the site and the property owner provided gravel and heavy equipment.

In the 1981 towns and villages signed an agreement with the county, and county government took over solid waste management in Columbia County. The town believes that county also agreed to reimburse New Lebanon for the costs of operating the landfill until it was closed and agreed to close the site.

The statement says the landfill operations ceased in the late 1980s, when the county began work on the landfill closure, a technical term that reflects the need to contain the potentially harmful materials that collect in landfills. The closure process usually includes covering the landfill so that rainwater does not seep into the buried waste and leech chemicals into the surrounding environment.

The price for finishing the closure of the landfill and paying for related costs could be as high as $1.5 million, said Doug Clark, a member of the New Lebanon Town Board and an engineer familiar with the closure process.

The town says that the county’s closure activity stopped around 1990, when the county and the property owner “got into a dispute about their respective obligations.” And now, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is demanding that the Town complete the closure.

But the town’s position is that the county was the operator when the landfill ceased operation and Reginald L. Sherman, Jr. was the owner. The Town Board does not believe it has a legal obligation to close the landfill.

The problem has only become more complicated in the years since. Mr. Clark said the original landowner, Mr. Sherman, has died and his estate now controls the property. And even though the county agreed to take over the closure of the landfill, the state pursued the town. Mr. Clark attributes that to the fact that the town held the permits for the landfill.

County Attorney Rob Fitzsimmons said he was not aware that the town had hired a law firm to pursue the matter, but he said there have been ongoing discussions with the town about the matter. He also said that the town had signed to legal documents, called consent orders, with the state.

Mr. Clark called the county’s handling of the matter a “shell game,” because the county had taken responsibility for all the other local landfills years ago. Like Mr. Fitzsimmons, he said that the discussions had gone on for some time, but he said they had resulted in a “vaguely worded resolution” adopted by the Board of Supervisors that was of no help to the town.

“We just want a straight up or down vote,” said Mr. Clark. “We can’t even get that.”

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