Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Solar Farm and the Landfill

Tuesday's meeting of the Conservation Advisory Council was attended by some people who don't normally attend CAC meetings: Council president Tom DePietro, Public Works commissioner Peter Bujanow, and Christine Vanderlan from the Columbia Land Conservancy. Bujanow was there, DePietro explained, "to clarify misinformation that seems to be out there." DePietro was referring to a post on Gossips reporting that, in the discussion at a Common Council ad hoc committee, the scope of the area being considered as a possible site for a solar farm had expanded to include the capped landfill at the end of North Second Street. This "misinformation" had provoked comment from former mayor Tiffany Martin and First Ward supervisor Sarah Sterling and prompted the CAC to get involved--all of which DePietro characterized as "kerfuffle." 

In clarifying the situation, Bujanow explained that DePietro had "assigned him" to look at two parcels: the plateau above Charles Williams Park, the site that had been discussed all along, and another parcel on North Second Street that bordered and appeared to "overlap with the landfill." Referring to the capped landfill, Bujanow said, "It only made sense to me to explore that as well." He mentioned again a conversation he'd had with Ron Knott, supervisor for the Town of Stuyvesant and chair of the county Public Works Committee, and said Knott was "looking to develop landfills throughout the county." He mentioned a study done by the EPA in 2017 which found the landfill in Hudson would be a "great site" for solar. When CAC member David Konigsberg asked if any study had been done that considered viewshed and habitat, Bujanow answered, "That is not what I do."

Bujanow asserted, "You can't really walk on that landfill," and opined, "It's not intended to be a park." Vanderlan clarified, harking back perhaps to an idea proposed decades ago of turning the landfill into a amphitheater, that "creating new places for people to gather is not a possibility" for the landfill, "but a walking path is very doable." She noted that the design done several years ago by Starr Whitehouse includes a path over the landfill that connects to the Greenport Conservation Area. Former youth director Nick Zachos opined, "Having a trail and access to the conservation area is a social justice issue."

CAC member Tom O'Dowd asked, "Can solar and trails coexist?" Later, CAC member Hilary Hillman reiterated, "[The question] can the solar coexist with the natural situation has yet to be answered." At the end of the meeting, the question of coexistence remained unanswered. 

There seems to be a certain amount of mission drift when it comes to this project. In the beginning, it seemed the principal purpose was to put a parcel of City-owned land to some useful and revenue-producing purpose. During much of the discussion at the CAC meeting it seemed that creating a solar farm was the main objective, and the challenge was finding a site. At one point, Bujanow asked, "If not a capped landfill, where else in two square miles do you put it?" DePietro commented, "The original idea was to use an open space that has no other use and is not highly visible." Presumably he was talking about the site just north of Charles Williams Park. 

At the end of the meeting, it was not clear what was to happen next. Bujanow suggested he would "put the RFP out with the two sites without the landfill," but he added, "Since I was in that vicinity, being proactive, I think it will generate more interest if it includes the landfill." DePietro asked, "Are we worried that if we don't do solar ourselves [on the landfill] the county will do it?" Bujanow responded, "Ron Knott is seriously considering putting solar on all landfills in the county, including Hudson." CAC member Michael O'Hara asked if the other landfills in the county were flat, asserting, "The Hudson landfill is not going to work [because it is sloped]." O'Hara questioned if the EPA had done a site visit and realized that the landfill is sloped.  

It is reassuring that, despite their concern being called by DePietro "kerfuffle" and "a tempest in a teapot," the CAC is focused and involved with this issue.


  1. By the time Christine Vanderlan of the CLC was able to explain that a trail absolutely can traverse the capped landfill, much of the counterargument was already a fait accompli.

    Commissioner Bujanow got it from Ron Knott and the solar farm developers - both of whom he approached for their “scientific information” - that “You can’t really walk on that landfill,” and “They don’t want you walking on that landfill.”

    He also spoke of the methane vents as a health hazard, adding that “Once [a landfill] is capped, there’s not much you can do with it.”

    Knowing all of this to be false, as later confirmed by Vanderlan, it took no effort to see through Bujanow’s comments as he made them, all of which required the non-walkability of the landfill as his premise.

    It’s the same old City Hall. It doesn’t matter who’s in power, this is how sausage gets made.

    Fair-minded people who didn’t know before Vanderlan spoke that Commissioner Bujanow was full of it likely walked away with the impression that he’d still said something useful and true. Not true! His entire rationale was demolished along with President DePietro’s similar points (e.g., viewsheds allegedly never intended for terrestrial viewers, and so on).

    Hopefully, the same fair-minded people who were fooled by the commissioner’s central premise questioned his stated commitment to “the science.” Late in the meeting he acknowledged that the developers he’d taken as scientists were motivated by profit.

    If it’s science he was after, then Commissioner Bujanow - AND ANYONE ELSE IN CITY GOVERNMENT – should come to the Conservation Advisory Council first. Otherwise, our officials end up wasting everyone’s time just as DePietro and Bujanow did before the excellent Ms. Vanderlan was able to speak.

    Because I’ve always wanted to preserve the viewshed and complete the trail, I thoroughly enjoyed the sly question of CAC member Britt Zuckerman (written in the sidebar “chat”) when she asked if people were really looking for a site for a solar array or just trying to find something to put on the capped landfill? President DePietro shot back that it was the former, either missing her irony or warding it off.

    The Albany Institute of Art will soon publish a book of the Hudson River School painters, comparing their 19th century painting locations with the same views today. Because I was consulted for this book, I know that the top of the capped landfill is one of the featured sites.

  2. Dont worry, the landfill will never see a solar panel. "Cant disturb the wildlife."

  3. the same CC president who got rid of all the individual CC department meetings because, according to him, they had become "free-for- alls". I want to say he has a streak of hyperbole, but it's beyond that. I think imperious is the word.

    1. I’m not well versed in the changed committee rules, but what you’re saying is consistent with what I witnessed.

      Did Messrs. Bujanow and DePietro coordinate their fake argument beforehand? If they included the CLC as they claimed then they avoided asking the one and only question which was pertinent to their strategy: Can the landfill be traversed by foot traffic?

      The answer is yes, but they couldn't use that.

      Perhaps they were simply taken in by Mr. Knott, who is the very last person you’d seek advice from on this issue. The fact that they went to him first and then helped consolidate Knott’s fraudulent argument for him doesn’t speak well of City Hall.

      The discussion with the CAC seemed collegial enough, but in reality it was a hard sell backed up by false claims and vague threats. We were told that the county may overrule the city, and presumably circumvent SEQRA too. And was anyone impressed by the alleged EPA recommendation which the CAC hadn’t seen beforehand? If you’re going to flog some document as much as Mr. Bujanow did this one, then you circulate it first if only out of respect. (And when the report is finally shared, look for the disclaimers about local exceptions - such as Mr. O’Hara’s slope concerns - which were inconvenient during a hard sell.)

      Despite their seeming reasonableness, the actual words spoken were so aggressive that they amounted to an attack on the facts and on common sense. It was an attack because the arguments of Mr. Knott, as ably represented by DePietro and Bujanow, were based entirely on a false claim. It was whipped up nonsense, tiresomely repeated.

      But whether it was a lie or just a mistake on the part of DePietro and Bujanow, the follow-on technique was the same as it ever was: you throw enough crap at a wall and something invariably sticks.

      In this case, a Common Council acting in lock step with a city commissioner pushed the obnoxious goals of an aggressive county office.

      As for Mr. DePietro’s own constituents, his Conservation Advisory Council, and our North Bay bobolinks, does he really suppose we’re all so easily manipulated?

      The last claim to be made in desperation will be an "environmental" appeal to renewable energy, as if every other conservation issue must be sacrificed, ultimately, at the highest altar of all. It's just all so cynical.

    2. Amateurs in way over their heads, saying and doing things they are not qualified for. This seems to be the state of our local politics and politicians and it is getting ugly.

  4. The world's largest man made structure, the Fresh Kills Landfill is becoming the Fresh Kills Park. If a park be built on top of the world's biggest trash heap, surely we can come up with something better.

    1. Darned tootin', unless you're an official with a plan who'll make stuff up to the very body that's tasked to know the difference.

      Commissioner Bujanow:

      “Once [a landfill] is capped, there’s not much you can do with it.”

      “They don’t want you walking on that landfill.”

      “I don’t know how you develop [that into] a park.”

      He was honest in the third sentence anyway. But next time there's an extant plan for a public park, speak first to that park's planners rather than some new developer. For that matter, consult with the CAC before you identify yourself with a bunch of fibs.

      Has anyone else noticed that this city government sees potential and actual parklands as exploitable resources first? Then they'll cover themselves with bad-faith euphemisms about green initiatives and tourism. It's icky.