We’re approaching summertime in the Finger Lakes, that glorious stretch of beautiful weeks that keeps our spirits buoyed through the long months of cold and wintery chill. It’s a time when people head to the lake, the ballpark, a parade, front porch concerts, or outdoor movie nights (schedules for all of these events are on Geneva’s website).

We sometimes assume that because the kids are on vacation from school, local government takes a “summer recess” as well. Attendance at City Council meetings decreases, some boards and commissions skip a meeting or two because they know members might be unavailable, and the campaign season seems a bit less in-your-face in preparation for the fall ramp up (if only we could ban political signs until October and just let people enjoy the flowers in their neighbors’ yards!)

But as Geneva saw a few years ago, when a chunk of property near the state park was sold for housing and then the decision was reversed once the public heard about it and demanded that their wishes for an open lakefront be respected, sometimes summer is when controversial things get proposed.

To reduce the risk of big trouble emerging on the scene while we’re busy at the barbecue or floating in the pool, I’m proposing that you consider adding the following two items to your list of “beach reads” (I’m being facetious about the publications — they don’t actually exist — but please consider writing a note to elected officials or attending a meeting to weigh in on these):

• “Anaerobic Digesters,” by Casella and Ontario County. In this ongoing series, we see our protagonist, the residents of Ontario County, facing challenge after challenge as a major corporation attempts to turn a region full of natural beauty into a region full of trash. The latest installment finds Casella preying on local farmers, seeking county approval to use them as a proving ground for what would ultimately be a long-term waste “solution” for Casella’s bottom line. As county supervisors from Geneva attempt to persuade their western counterparts to pay attention, the people who cannot see or smell the landfill continue to sing Casella’s praises.

Local advocates share Casella’s annual investor report (readily available online) with the supervisors, pointing out Casella’s plan to cash in (or as the report puts it “effectively capitalize”) “on the rapidly changing disposal and regulatory environment for bio-solids across the Northeast” and demonstrate the parallels with the anaerobic digester partnership on Jordan’s Dairy Farm in Massachusetts and the Cayuga County digester that was cited by the DEC for accepting household waste in violation of its permit, yet the supervisors continue to turn a blind eye.

In a turn that adds intrigue to the narrative, Carla Jordan (former Casella executive and current county director of “sustainability”) pushed a consulting contract with a champion of anaerobic digesters for landfill operations, only to be temporarily blocked as supervisors asked more questions. But what will happen as a current resolution is considered that would allow Casella to test their method with farm digesters in order to “provide information for a possible larger scale operation in the future”? Will farmers realize that this “pilot” will turn into a long-term dependency on Casella? Will the county ever realize that it could help farmers directly by providing recycled materials for digesters without Casella serving as the profit-collecting middleman? Will Sen. Helming’s legislation providing state funds for digesters really help farmers, or will it simply encourage them to be beholden to Casella (her former employer)?

• “Growth in An Age of Zoning,” by the City of Geneva. In a city striving for beauty, prosperity, equity, connection, and sustainability, what is a consulting firm to do? Written as a love letter to architecture, streetscapes, and community values, the updated zoning will tell this city who they are and who they might become. Be part of the awakening as frenzied lovers of open space and recreation try to ward off the unwelcomed advances of developers. Follow the efforts to protect community wealth from opportunists and speculators who have their eyes on the riches. Through pictures and prose, and probably several annotated tables, be immersed in the creation of a living document to the future that might be, if only we would appropriately regulate it.

I hope to see you at some of the county and city meetings, to read the letters to the editor you might generate on these topics, and to see you keeping vigilant about local politics this summer.

Jackie Augustine lives with her three children in Geneva, where she served on City Council for 16 years. An ethics instructor at Keuka College, she is also co-director of the Seneca7 running relay. Email her at writethingcolumn@gmail.com.

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