Landfill? More like landfull, foes say

With help from Irie Sentner

Seneca Meadows, New York’s largest landfill, could get even bigger.

The current plan, proposed by the landfill’s Texas-based operator Waste Connections, would expand the landfill by 47 acres and approximately 70 feet in height. It is already the eighth largest landfill in the country – almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

The growth of the Finger Lakes landfill continues to draw the ire of local Democratic leaders and environmental groups, who held a news conference at the Capitol today to say the plan stinks.

“We can’t continue to neglect the Finger Lakes. In the Finger Lakes and the Great Lakes combined, we have about 95 percent of all surface freshwater in the United States,” Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) said. “That is what we’re risking.”

Residents and people fighting the expansion are concerned about the landfill’s toxic chemicals on the Finger Lakes and Seneca Lake. Landfills can produce a toxic liquid called leachate, which can leech into nearby bodies of water, as well as produce greenhouse gasses.

New York’s climate plans calls for the reduction of waste going to landfills.

Waste Connections’ plan would extend the lifetime of the landfill by 15 years. It’s currently slated to shut down in 2025, and the proposal before the state would extend that to 2040.

The company, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has touted its safety record and role in the community, saying on its website: “Seneca Meadows understands that actively participating in the community is just as important as maintaining our outstanding track record of safety and environmental stewardship.”

But lawmakers said the goal should be less waste.

“We want the Finger Lakes to be known for tourism, great wine or beautiful scenery… We do not want it to be known as the garbage capital of the state,” said Democratic Sen. Rachel May, who represents Syracuse and the northern Finger Lakes region, said.

Most of the trash in the landfill, which currently stands at 280 feet, comes from New York City — which has largely failed to make a dent in its recycling and reduction goals. — Shawn Ness

REDISTRICTING JUDGE RISES RANKS: Gov. Kathy Hochul officially installed Judge Dianne Renwick as the presiding justice for the First Department of the state’s Appellate Division. The role of presiding justice for one of the state’s four judicial departments is the highest position a state judge can hold before serving on the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

Renwick was first appointed to the role in June. Today’s installation cemented her as the first woman of color to serve as a presiding justice of any of the state’s appellate divisions, and the second woman to lead a department.

The installation was celebrated by Hochul and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Rowan Wilson as an achievement in diversity, but New York’s GOP contended the move is a rehashing of the state court system’s increasing politicization — particularly in the uber-consequential redistricting case.

Renwick entered the spotlight when she replaced the newly-appointed Associate Judge Caitlin Halligan to preside over the dramatic and seemingly interminable state redistricting case. She assumed the role after Halligan’s recusal from the case, a move which Republicans said was highly unusual and stank of partisanship.

“The ethically questionable decisions made by Governor Hochul, Chief Judge Wilson and Presiding Justice Renwick, by ruining the reputation of the Court of Appeals to fairly decide politically controversial questions, have undermined public confidence in our judiciary,” NY GOP chair Ed Cox said in a statement. “No amount of ceremony today can obscure this fact.”

Before her recusal from the redistricting case, Halligan was seen as the potential swing vote in the case, since she had never ruled on redistricting law before. Wilson’s appointment of Renwick to replace Halligan was seen as a win for Democrats because of her record of siding with Democrats in past redistricting cases.

Last month, Democrats celebrated the Court of Appeal’s decision to give the Democrats another shot at drawing New York’s congressional lines. Renwick joined the majority decision, voting in line with Wilson and two other judges to be the deciding vote. — Jason Beeferman

DICKENS TO RETIRE: Harlem Democratic Assemblymember Inez Dickens will not seek reelection, setting up what could be a closely watched primary for her seat in Albany.

Dickens, 74, announced this morning she would not seek another term to the chamber she was first elected to in 2016. She previously served on the New York City Council for a decade.

Dickens lost a hotly contested race for the council last year.

In a statement, Dickens called her career “a humbling journey” in Harlem and Albany.

“The job of fighting for the underprivileged, under-resourced, and under-represented does not end with my retirement,” she said. “As I close this chapter of my life, the story is not over. I look forward to continuing to work on the issues that are near and dear to my heart.”

Dickens’ retirement comes as Democrat Jordan Wright is expected to run for the seat. Wright, the son of Manhattan Democratic Chair Keith Wright, successfully managed the campaign of Councilmember Yusef Salaam last year.

Salaam defeated both Dickens and Assemblymember Al Taylor in a Democratic primary. Nick Reisman

ERASE THE DEBT: Mayor Eric Adams is pledging to erase the medical debt of as many as 500,000 New Yorkers, calling it the “largest municipal initiative of its kind in the country.”

The city will spend $18 million over three years to relieve more than $2 billion in medical debt, Adams said today. The initiative will cover New Yorkers whose annual household income is at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty line — about $79,000 for a family of two — or whose medical debt equals 5 percent or more of their annual income.

The city is partnering with the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt to purchase bundled debt portfolios and automatically wipe out the balance that eligible patients owe — no application required.

Adams said the investment is an example of “smart fiscal management” because it will help prevent working class New Yorkers from falling into the city’s safety net.

“Low income, uninsured New Yorkers — the city will pick up the cost of unpaid medical debt one way or the other,” he said.

The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City launched a fundraising campaign to supplement Adams’ funding commitment and potentially expand the initiative. Maya Kaufman

WHO YA GONNA CALL: The people working one of the city’s most stressful jobs just got some relief. The Adams administration announced this morning it reached a labor agreement with the labor unions representing 911 operators, repped by DC 37 and their supervisors, repped by CWA Local 1180.

The deal expands a pilot program for three or four-day workweeks specific to the people taking emergency calls. The city launched a less expansive pilot program for all DC 37 employees last week.

The Adams administration has prided itself in quickly settling expired union contracts over the last year. Some 93 percent of the city workforce, and the entire uniformed workforce, are working under new contracts. — Jeff Coltin

ROE’S ANNIVERSARY: The Democratic-led chambers of the Legislature are approving measures today meant to expand maternal health access in New York.

Lawmakers pointed to the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that upheld abortion rights. The ruling was overturned in 2022, setting off a push from legislatures in Democratic-heavy states like New York to approve new protections for abortion.

“Every step we take in a post-Roe world toward greater reproductive equity and maternal health is monumental,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “There’s no small deed when the stakes are this high.”

The measures include the development of new standards for maternal depression screenings and increased access to doula care.

“On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we understand the continued threat women face when looking for reproductive healthcare,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. “While we work to strengthen those protections, we must also work to protect mothers and babies from the concerning trend of maternal and infant mortality facing our state.”

Voters in November will consider adding an amendment that is meant to enshrine a broad array of rights into the state constitution, including the right to an abortion. Nick Reisman

MEDICAID: Advocates and legislators gathered in front of the Senate Chambers to call on Hochul to address Medicaid funding, which they said her budget plan could put the health care of over 7 million New Yorkers on the chopping block.

The legislators, accompanied by The Greater New York Hospital Association and 1199SEIU, knocked the state’s failure to raise the Medicaid reimbursement rates.

In New York, 63 percent of hospitals lost money in 2022, “75 percent are at risk to be put on a financial respirator,” GNYHA President Ken Raske said.

“We know that Medicaid pays 30 percent less of the cost of care. The state has more cash at this point in its financial plan than at any time in the history of New York State. We’re not asking for an arm and a leg, we are just asking for a fair share of that excess.”

Hochul’s proposal would trim a few billion dollars off the state’s whopping $99.8 billion Medicaid bill after the expiration of enhanced federal funding tied to the pandemic and amid the growing cost of caring for an aging population. — Shawn Ness

EDUCATION: Queens Borough President Donovan Richards announced more than $30 million in funding to upgrade facilities in schools across the borough.

Richards is allocating the aid to pay for capital projects at public schools throughout Queens. August Martin High School in South Jamaica, for example, received $4.3 million to renovate its cafeteria, refurbish its aging gymnasium and install a cooling system in its auditorium.

“Sadly, many schools in our borough and city do not have [high-quality] facilities thanks to long-standing disinvestment in school infrastructure,” Richards said in a statement. “To address this, I focused my latest round of school capital allocations on rectifying long-standing inequity in school infrastructure spending, especially among Queens high schools.”

The borough president doled out $10.7 million in fiscal year 2023 and $11.5 million the year before that. Madina Touré

— A hedge fund billionaire and a gaming giant, both hoping to land a coveted license to run a casino in New York City, have to clear a major hurdle in Albany this year. Key politicians are already expressing doubts. (POLITICO)

— Hochul and Sen. Chuck Schumer announced $228.2 million in federal funding to connect upstate communities to high-speed internet. (Democrat and Chronicle)

— Drivers who concealed, obstructed or faked their license plates avoided 224,000 MTA tolls a month last year and cost the agency about $46 million in toll revenue in 2022. (Newsday)

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