SENECA FALLS — Seneca Meadows Landfill dropped a bombshell Thursday that just about no one expected.
Citing local opposition, the company announced it has withdrawn its contract proposal to accept New York City trash by railroad instead of truck.
The surprise revelation was made in a two-paragraph statement issued Thursday afternoon. Toronto-based Progressive Waste Solutions, Seneca Meadows’ parent company, issued a similar statement.
The landfill submitted a proposal last fall to the New York City Department of Sanitation. A proposed contract stipulated that up to 2,495 tons of trash would arrive in Seneca County each day by way of sealed containers brought on rail cars.
The agreement would have covered 20 years, with an option for 10 additional years, and Seneca Meadows, the state’s largest landfill, would have been paid $3.3 billion over the life of the contract.
The city and landfill reached a tentative agreement in November, but the contract was being reviewed by New York City’s legal department and had not yet been awarded.
The “trash train” proposal generated considerable opposition in Seneca Falls and the surrounding area. Opponents claimed the length of the contract would ensure the landfill’s continued operation beyond 2023, which has been floated as the landfill’s closure date.
“We highly value our long-standing relationship with the community of Seneca Falls,” Seneca Meadows District Manager Kyle Black said in the press release. “The community has communicated clearly that they do not want containerized waste by rail coming to Seneca Meadows. We have listened to the community and, as a result, decided to withdraw our proposal to the city of New York.
“We hope that this withdrawal of our contract proposal demonstrates to the town that we are deeply committed to being a good partner for the future.”
Earlier this month, the Town Board introduced a local law that would have prohibited new landfills from opening in Seneca Falls, along with the cessation of operations at existing ones — unless existing facilities were operating under a state permit. Seneca Meadows would have been exempt under the latter provision, although its operating permit expires Oct. 10, 2017.
Seneca Meadows has applied to the state for a 10-year extension. A decision is pending.
“The team at Seneca Meadows live and work in our community,” Black wrote. “We have always given back to the community through donations to local institutions, the creation of jobs in the area, volunteering our time back to the community and supporting the community through our financial contributions annually. We know that we are an important contributor to the town’s finances, and we want to continue to be an asset to the area we live and work in.”
The landfill currently accepts about 1,415 tons of New York City waste by truck each day. It’s permitted to accept up to 6,000 tons on a daily basis overall.
The landfill gives the town about $2.7 million annually under terms of a host community benefits agreement. Landfill officials said last week the local law, which will be subject to a public hearing June 7, is a violation of the host community benefits agreement and could jeopardize that revenue.
Progressive Waste Solutions issued a statement confirming that Seneca Meadows had withdrawn its offer.
“After a thorough evaluation of a number of factors, including local government opposition to the rail hauling of waste to the landfill, the company and its pending merger partner, Waste Connections Inc., believe it can no longer commit to meeting certain terms of the proposed New York City contract,” the company statement read.
The company said it expects the merger with Texas-based Waste Connections to be completed soon.
Seneca Falls Supervisor Greg Lazzaro said Thursday he was aware of the withdrawal, but he declined to comment.
Joanne Elliott, who lives with her husband, Karl, at 42 Cayuga St. — Finger Lakes Railway tracks come within yards of their home — said she was “very happy and relieved” about the news.
“I still have concerns about future contracts with other locations for Finger Lakes Railway to bring trash by rail to Seneca Meadows or through our communities to other upstate landfills,” Elliott said.
Elliott supports the recently introduced local law, although she favors exempting Seneca Meadows from complying with it until 2025.
“The town is legally bound to the terms as listed in the host benefits agreement,” Elliott said. “With a firm closure date, Seneca Meadows and their employees have years to prepare and the town has time to budget in anticipation of that loss of revenue.”
Finger Lakes Railway issued a statement saying it is “very disappointed that the shortsighted claims of the local opposition against the rail transport of waste was apparently a factor in this decision.”
“A modal shift of product from truck to rail is always more environmentally friendly and cost effective,” the company said.
“This contract would have replaced over 100 trucks per day into and out of Seneca Meadows and created jobs both at our company and at local vendors,” the statement read.
The Waterloo-based rail company said the decision will not stop it from continuing to develop the rail spur on Route 414 for a variety of agricultural and other transload businesses.
“The local opposition and Town Board should realize that they are setting a precedent against local business and against economic development in their town and county. ... This is disgraceful and should not be seen as a win for the community,” the statement concluded.
Town Board members were asked to comment but none had by press time today.