Call Our Firm:   605.385.0330   |   701.355.6885

Commercial Transactions & Litigation, Environmental Law, Natural Resources Law, & Energy Law

Albany Landfill Liability

Landfills are created with liners and other collection systems designed to prevent contamination of the ground, groundwater and the air resulting from trash disposal practices. Despite such safeguards, in 2003 the U.S. Geological Survey (citing the EPA) opined that “all landfills eventually will leak into the environment.” Yet the City of Albany is not financially prepared for pollution accidents which may occur while the city’s Rapp Road Landfill is operating.

The operation of a landfill, also known as a solid waste facility, involves significant environmental risks, such as damage caused from a landfill leaking or by contamination of groundwater. New York DEC regulations require that operators of landfills have written contingency plans to deal with cases of equipment failure, leaks, or other problems. A contingency plan is like a “game plan,” that describes what is to be done when an accident occurs. Albany has a lengthy contingency plan in place. It is fairly comprehensive. But the plan is lacking the most relevant aspect of contingency planning: the financial perspective. All contingency plans should examine the financial costs of remedying an “event” during the operational life of a landfill. The Albany plan does not reference any kind of cost based on an accident or spill – not how much a cleanup might cost, or how the city plans to cover those costs. This is clearly a problem – the city can prepare for as many contingent problems as it may forecast, but if it cannot prepare financially, it won’t be ready to put those plans in action.

Albany maintains general contingency funds to cover such things as claims or suits against the city. However, it is unlikely that Albany has set aside enough money to handle a landfill pollution problem without insurance to limit the damage. I have found no record of environmental pollution insurance carried by the city to cover the landfill. The multi-million dollar landfill cleanup planned because of the Burnsville, MN landfill leak should be a warning sign for all landfill operators. Cleaning up the 150-acre landfill is expected to cost over $60 million dollars, pursuant to an estimate by the state. Albany needs to move early, before it is already too late.

For a state where municipalities must shoulder the weight of their own mistakes – as opposed to others where the state is more inclined to bestow sovereign immunity protection on municipalities – cities that operate landfills need to take care. Albany’s contingency plan is not reasonable, especially when the landfill in question makes money – and the Rapp Road Landfill makes money. The landfill is expected to provide a profit of over $6 million to the City of Albany in 2016, providing 5% of the city’s revenues. This source of revenue should be insured against leaks and remediation. Abject indifference concerning the financial risks of running a landfill will only serve to cost more in the long run.

Author: David Ganje. David Ganje of Ganje Law Offices practices in the area of environmental, natural resources and commercial law.  His website is lexenergy.net