Environmental groups look to stop proposed ash dump near the Hudson River

Photo courtesy of Riverkeeper
Local residents attend a public meeting on a proposed ash dump in the town of Catskill on April 23. A coalition of environmental groups is asking for state and local help to defeat the project, which would collect ash from burned garbage at three New York trash incinerators.

A trash incineration company has proposed plans for a large incinerator ash dump in a former quarry in the Town of Catskill near the shore of the Hudson River.

The company — Portsmouth, N.H. based Wheelabrator Technologies — is in the process of applying for permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, but environmental groups have organized in opposition to the plan, and have already held a press conference at the Capitol and a public forum near the site of the project.

According to Wheelabrator’s website, the company operates four ash “monofills” that accept ash from their waste-to-energy facilities, other companies, and municipalities across the U.S.

Ash is transported to the sites in covered, watertight trucks and unloaded at the monofill, spread with a bulldozer, and compacted with a vibratory roller. To prevent dirt and residue from leaving the dump, every truck exiting the facility is thoroughly rinsed at an on-site wash station and access roadways are swept daily.

From the discarded ash, further ferrous and non-ferrous metals not removed via in plant systems are recovered and sent to advanced metal recovery upgrade facilities to be recycled, the company states.

Opposition groups say the Wheelabrator project would involve trucking approximately 445,000 tons of ash on local roads — including U.S. Route 9W — through Catskill and surrounding communities, with trucks coming from both the south and the north.

The quarry site is made up of highly permeable hydrology, which is known to have extensive drainage systems and springs, adding to the likelihood of toxic ash reaching the Hudson River and groundwater.

“Putting massive amounts of incinerator ash in an old quarry so close to the Hudson River makes no sense,” said Judith Enck, former Regional Administrator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “This is one of the worst pollution projects I have seen in a long time in the Hudson Valley. It is imperative that the residents of Catskill and nearby communities become actively involved in opposing this ill-advised project.”

Incinerator ash like that from Wheelabrator incinerators includes high levels of heavy metals and dioxins, say the opponents. The ash poses a significant risk to the surrounding region’s human and natural communities as well as to the entire Hudson River ecosystem.

The ash would come from Wheelabrator’s incinerators in Peekskill, Poughkeepsie and Hudson Falls.

At an April 15 news conference in Albany, the coalition opposed to the ash dump released a letter to Town of Catskill Town Supervisor Doreen Davis — signed by 53 groups and close to 200 individuals — calling on the town to stop the project now, before it has to go through administrative processes.

“Our broad coalition of environmental and community groups calls on Catskill Town Supervisor Davis to reject the ash dump and for the DEC to deny the necessary permits given the threats to the Hudson River, air and water quality, and the public health,” said geologist and local community member Paul Rubin.

A public meeting was also held April 23 at the Catskill Community Center, and was reportedly standing room only.

“For countless reasons, this is a bad project and there are many better alternatives for the site,” said Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay. “We’re calling on the community to get active and engage their leaders so that, together, we can agree on a better plan for the old quarry than to fill it with toxic ash.”