Monday, October 22, 2007

More Dirty Business In Town Of Hempstead Sanitary District

NYS DEC Sues Sanitary District No. 1 For Violating Law On Recycling

Sure. Sure. We're always talking trash about the Town of Hempstead's Sanitary Districts, where Commissioners dine at Morton's Steakhouse on your tab. But come on now, when your little fiefdom can't even follow the rules on seperating solid waste from recyclables -- and won't even try -- you know there's something terribly wrong.

We wonder what, Nat "extra trucks to pick up bread during Passover" Swergold, counsel for Sanitary District 1, will have to say about the latest foible from this smelly little throwback to medievil times? We're certain that he'll have some excuse for the District not doing as the law requires. After all, the law dosn't apply to Special Districts, does it?

And what, if anything, will Town Supervisor Kate Murray say or do?

Oh, that's right. She has "no control" over the Special Districts," call them Town of Hempstead or otherwise.

So, let's see. Sanitary District 1 is the ONLY district in New York that doesn't require "at the curb" recycling?

The State DEC says the district is stuck in the 1950s. Heck, that's nothing. The Town of Hempstead has been stuck at the turn of the century -- that's the 1800s to the 1900s -- for 105 years!

Pay more. Get less. That's not trash talk. That's the reality of life in Kate Murray's Hempstead Town.
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Recycling row in Hempstead going to court

Twenty years ago, an Islip garbage barge's fruitless five-month quest for a place to unload its trash drew national attention to a landfill crisis in the Northeast and sparked a local recycling revolution.

But for residents in Hempstead's Sanitary District 1, garbage day looks pretty much the same as it did back then. Food scraps, beer cans, takeout boxes -- the district's 30,000 customers in the Five Towns area stuff it all in the same bin instead of leaving a separate container of recyclables at the curb.

That approach has landed the district in a legal battle with state environmental officials, who say the district has blown a 1992 deadline mandating that recyclables be "source separated" -- sorted out from trash left for collection. The state says it is enforcing the law, but the court fight has also raised the question of whether residents really need to separate paper and containers to recycle effectively.

The district is the only one in the state that doesn't ask its residential customers to source separate, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Instead, workers at a Lawrence recycling facility pick through the trash, plucking salvageable recyclables from the detritus of suburban life.

"This special district is stuck in the 1950s," said DEC regional director Peter Scully. The DEC refused to renew a permit for its recycling center, saying it violates state conservation law.District officials defend their method. They said it yields more material because it doesn't rely on residents to sort reusable commodities from the 38,000 tons of refuse the district processes each year.

Scully called the district's assessment of its own recycling rates "suspect," and said materials salvaged after collection have less value because they've been contaminated by household waste and shards of glass.

The district sued the DEC earlier this year for stopping the permit renewal. The lawsuit said Sanitary District 1 had operated this way for years without objections, and that state law only required source separation if there is an economic market for the recyclable materials.

In this case, the district argued, no market exists because the cost of extra equipment, staff and pickups would cancel out the district's revenue from the sale of recycled materials.

In August, Nassau State Supreme Court Justice William R. LaMarca ruled that the district had broken the law and violated the terms of its DEC permit. But he gave the district a chance to prove its economic argument. Both sides were in court last week for a preliminary conference and are scheduled to appear again in January. The facility remains open.

Sanitation experts say it's difficult to tell which type of recycling does a better job. A so-called "clean MuRF" -- a materials recovery facility -- that processes only recyclables -- can yield cleaner materials that fetch higher market prices.

Still, a "dirty MuRF," like the Lawrence facility, produces "a hell of a lot of material," said David Tonjes, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University who studies solid waste. Recyclables from a dirty MuRF might sell for less, but the volume of recovered material could be greater, he said.

Economics are at the center of the district's legal argument. Switching to source separation would be so expensive as to negate any benefit from selling recyclables, according to a report the district commissioned from Cameron Engineering, a Woodbury consulting firm.

The state said the Cameron report underestimated residential recycling rates and ignored changes that could cut costs, such as eliminating rear-yard collection. It also failed to apply the standard the state said was required to determine economic markets: comparing the cost of throwing away source-separated materials with the cost of recycling them.

DEC officials have also questioned the report's account of past district recycling rates because they include yard waste, which is collected separately.

In 2004 the district claimed a recycling rate of 42 percent. A DEC analysis that removed yard waste from the calculations pegged the real rate at 18 percent, compared with the Town of Hempstead's overall recycling rate of 27 percent. But there are many ways to calculate rates; other DEC figures show the Town of Hempstead's 2005 recycling rate at about 12.2 percent and the district at 11.7 percent.

Whatever the various rates, Scully said the district's position is undercut by strong prices for recycled commodities. "The sanitary district would have a tough time explaining why they are the only municipality in the state for which no economic markets exist," he said.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

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