Supervisor John E. Sweeney Jr. said Friday that a new ruling in the litigation over landfills on the AES Corp. power plant property is a victory for the town.
Two examining judges recommended to the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment on Tuesday that AES must construct a landfill that complies with state standards.
Sweeney said, "It needs to be a secure landfill so whatever ash they dispose of doesn't get back into the environment or [Lake Ontario]."
However, the judges' acceptance of most of the terms of a compromise proposal the town and AES had worked out with the Department of Environmental Conservation doesn't force AES to build the most secure -- and most expensive -- type of landfill available. Instead, they recommend a variance allowing a less costly landfill that the judges believe will still protect public health and water quality.
A double-lined landfill, required by the DEC for the most hazardous types of waste, was what the town and the DEC had sought. AES argued that the waste created by burning of coal and removal of pollutants from smokestack emissions isn't as dangerous as the DEC and the town claimed.
Under the settlement, the town gave up its efforts, begun in late 2005, to bar all future landfilling at the Lake Road site. The company won the right to dump "ammoniated fly ash" in a single-lined landfill as long as its ammonia level remained below drinking water standards.
As long as that happens, the judges said construction of the double-lined landfill can wait until the second, single-lined landfill is full. That is estimated to take 20 years at the present rate of coal burning at the plant.
The town and AES agreed that a single-lined landfill is acceptable as long as the liner is modified to make it less likely to leak. However, it would still be cheaper than the double liner. The judges' ruling termed this "a reasonable compromise," and DEC staffers have decided that it complies with their regulations.
"The record establishes that the joint proposal's provisions would be a reasonably cost-effective means of minimizing environmental impacts," the board's examiners wrote in their 39-page ruling.
"If AES Somerset and the State Siting Board accept the examining judges' recommendation, years of litigation relating to the landfilling of ammoniated fly ash at the AES Somerset power plant will end. If AES rejects the recommended decision, we will return to litigation," the town said in a news release. AES Somerset President Kevin R. Pierce could not be reached to comment Saturday.
New York State Electric & Gas Corp., which opened the plant in 1984, dug an 84-acre landfill on the 1,800-acre complex, which AES bought from NYSEG in 1999. In all, 198 acres are set aside for landfills on the power plant property.
In 2004, with the first landfill nearly full, the state approved AES' plans for a second landfill covering 82 acres, but the town demanded construction of a third landfill that would be double-lined.
The town and the DEC complained that a single-lined landfill violated a 1999 agreement calling for the ammonia residue to be placed in a double-lined landfill. AES argued the ammonia with the fly ash didn't make the ash toxic enough to require a more costly landfill, because the level would be below the national safe drinkingstandard of two parts per million.