Email to the DEC, Town of Perinton and Senator Funke

The following is an email by Gary McNeil sent to the DEC, Town of Perinton and Senator Funke on December 21st, 2017. 

Mr. D'Amato, Supervisor Barker, and Senator Funke,

I'd like to thank all three of you for your recent communication regarding the High Acres landfill odor situation. You have assured the public that resolving this issue is a priority at both the state and local level. While the residents of Perinton and the surrounding areas can take some comfort in knowing that this issue will no longer fly under the radar, there are still many concerned about how we've gotten into this situation. On the surface, this appears to be a story of misguided leadership, lack of foresight, lack of oversight, and an unwillingness to take action until the problem was out of control. Waste Management has successfully created a narrative that they are a "good neighbor". The facts don't appear to back that statement up.

Based on WMs own data, the start of the current odor reporting trend was in March of 2017. The reporting stayed steady through the summer months, when WM responded to residents saying road construction was to blame. In fact, they put in writing that road construction was to blame from June to August. During those months, the smell was mostly a garbage smell, and not many residents knew how to report it. The gas smells started in earnest in September. Word started spreading through the east side about what people were smelling, and who to send emails to. As the gas odors continued into October, frequency, potency, and distance all increased, and people hit their tolerance threshold. The Facebook group was formed, and odors continued to increase. In early November I visited the WM site and experienced a very combative staff. I was invited to their site, yet they spent the first five minutes interrogating me about my motives, even though I was upfront saying I was simply a neighbor that wanted the odor situation resolved. They made it clear that they had powerful lawyers and plenty of funds to handle whatever problems they needed to. They also made it clear that historically the town had run interference for them with people like me. Needless to say, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. While I would have liked to get up and leave after 10 minutes, I stuck through it in order to learn as much as I could about their problems. I thought that if I'm going to move my family out of Perinton after growing up in Country Downs and Mason Valley, I was going to invest some time into what went wrong before making that decision.

So here we are in late December, on another night in Perinton that smells awful. The winds shifted out of the east earlier tonight, and, like clockwork, the odors started around Aldrich, made their way behind FHS, then into the south side of the Village, and finally over to Jefferson Ave. This isn't the first time we've predicted the odor based on time of day and wind direction, then watched as reports were logged over an hour across that swath of 6 miles. If this happens on a spring night when people are outside in the Village, the reputation of the Town and Village will deteriorate quickly. While hindsight is 20/20, it's hard to imagine the Town and the DEC approving expansion years ago, knowing what the risk of a deteriorating landfill brings to the surrounding communities. There are plenty of documented cases of landfills growing to a point where deteriorating infrastructure leads to an inability to control harmful gasses and odors. In the case of High Acres, regardless of the reasons they gave out in 2011, 2012, and now 2017, the perception is that they used to be able to handle 1500 tons of garbage a day, which is what they took in through the 2000-2010 time period. As time passed, and they started to increase daily amounts to 3500 tons of garbage a day, the odors started, and have been intermittent over the years, leading up the horrendous last 6 months. Perception is reality many times, and in the case of High Acres, excuses related to road construction, high rainfalls, and faulty systems, only serve to support the perception of the inability to scale the operation and a reactive oversight/management process.

So at this point, residents feel like the Town sold out years ago, the DEC failed in it's oversight, and WM simply doesn't care as they make millions in revenue off the site. The letter WM wrote to the DEC yesterday (12/20) supports many people's feelings. While we understand why the DEC is forcing WM to take these actions, they were in fact forced, after too many months of complaining. Just last year, in the 2016 Conservation Board meeting minutes, WM stated that the reason for any increase in complaints was because more "high end" houses exist around the landfill. While there are a few additional neighborhoods around the landfill, the fact that they are "high end" is irrelevant, and they do not address residents that built homes in the area 20-30 years ago that are now dealing with the landfill odor 6 miles away. It was a very arrogant response, which continued when I was onsite in November. The fact that they are just now apologetic and taking this situation seriously is a slap in the face to residents. The letter to the DEC also contained inaccurate information.

  • Odors did not start in the "late summer months", they started in March
  • The increase in community notifications did not "begin in the fourth quarter", they began in September, which is the third quarter
  • The data displayed in the odor notification chart is not accurate (I'm attaching the accurate data our group has captured since 11/4 for comparison)

While these may seem like minor technicalities, it seems more like WM wants to create their own timeline and narrative of events, which further erodes the trust of the community. The open house they recently had was on short notice and many residents just don't have hours to spend onsite at a business that is contributing negatively to their life. They simply want the odor to stop. WM had mentioned to me in my meeting in November that their open houses are typically not well attended, which is a sign to them that people are happy with their existence. That reasoning is flawed, and if they use it again in this instance it should be refuted.

At this point the community has been told the following (high level summary):

  • The DEC will be aggressively monitoring the remediation, reporting, and communication efforts of WM.
  • The Town started a 6 month clock in November for holding WM accountable should they not resolve the issue (amount a few other steps they are taking)
  • WM has provided a multitude of reasons and excuses for failing to scale their business properly, and will do everything they can as outlined in their letter to the DEC to resolve the odor situation by the end of March. They also said we'd see a significant improvement by January.

The Fresh Air group continues to grow daily as more people are impacted by the odor and word spreads (1650+ people from Perinton, Fairport, Macedon, Penfield, Walworth, and Gananda). We're finding that many people miles away aren't even aware that they are smelling the landfill. They call the fire departments and RG&E to report gas leaks because they just don't think the landfill would affect them 5-6 miles away. As you are aware, WM requests that residents call their hotline to log complaints. I have personally communicated to them that people are not willing to do that. WM should not dictate the form of communication. Using the phone puts all the tracking and logging into the hands of WM, which is not where it needs to be. Ideally a 3rd party would be overseeing this, but since that isn't happening, our group took the initiative to track it ourselves. At first we were using a Google Form, but on 12/4 we released a mobile app called "Fresh Air for the Eastside". The app picks up your location from the GPS in your phone, and the weather conditions from the weather app in the your phone, all in real time. It also links to your email account for easy creation of the email which some of you are included on. The user simply has to record what they are smelling and it's intensity. All other data points are automated. Anything that can't be reported in real time (like when you're driving) can still be logged into the Google Form when a resident has time to do so. I've attached our data from 11/4 to 12/20, along with a chart which is much more accurate than the chart WM provided.

  • 643 complaints over 47 days (6.5 weeks)
  • 33 of the 47 days had at least 1 complaint (70%)
  • The minimum number of complaints was 1
  • The maximum number of complaints was 78
  • The average number of complaints for the 33 days was 20
  • 398 unique addresses filed at least 1 complaint

Lastly, a class action firm recently sent letters to residents with a survey. The firm is from Detroit and is partnering with another firm in Syracuse. I've provided our FB group my thoughts on this type of class action, urging them to ignore the letter. Nobody should be interested in getting $500 out of a class action lawsuit, having their future rights to complain taken away, and not focusing on stopping the odor. If legal action is taken in the future, it should be to drastically reduce intake or shut the landfill down completely. That being said, I cannot control what residents do, and there are thousands that aren't in our group that received the letter.

Ultimately, I think there is a short window for WM to show they can minimize the odor. WM has stated that 4-5 instances a year would be acceptable, and I think people that live in the 5 mile radius of the landfill would agree. The jury is out if they can attain that type of rate between now and the end of March. If they don't, the expectation from the community is that this site be scaled back drastically (going back to 1500 tons a day that was manageable), or it be shut down. Whether the DEC takes action to do that, or the Town does so through legal action, doesn't matter to the community at this point. Should the DEC or the Town fail to take action, and the odor continue, I believe many residents are willing to take necessary action on their own. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that, but all options have to be on the table if people are not willing to give up and move out of town without a fight.

I apologize for the length of the email but there was a significant amount of information to cover. We are looking forward to voicing these concerns, and many more, at the Conservation Board meeting on 1/16. Again, I thank you for your efforts and communications thus far, and hope we can find a viable solution in the coming weeks and months. I hope you are all able to enjoy the upcoming holidays.

FYI - I redacted the names and addresses in the complaint log attached.


Email to the DEC and the Town of Perinton

The following is an email Gary McNeil sent to the DEC on December 6th, 2017; 


I have looped in Supervisor Barker to this email chain. I wanted to accomplish two things. One, to follow up on our email correspondence to see if the DEC has met with WM yet, and two, to provide both the DEC and the Perinton Town Board the data that the Facebook group has collected between 11/4 and 11/30. My ultimate goal is to try and get you both in the same room for a meeting in order to discuss both the DEC and Town's plans going forward in relation to the odor issue. Although we have only been organizing the affected community for 5 weeks, I fear that for many in the area this is already getting to a tipping point. The odor has continually gotten worse through the month of November, and the first few days of December have been horrendous. The odor frequency, intensity, and distance of travel is all increasing at an alarming rate.

The people of Perinton are prideful of their community and will not tolerate the odor for much longer. WM told me on 11/9 that they needed 6 months to fix their infrastructure problems. That is unacceptable for this community. There are 10k+ residences affected by the odor over the last month. 1300 people have joined the Facebook group, but there are many more that are not on social media or are unaware of the group. They have no idea there is a way to log their complaints. As we plot the location of each complaint on a map, we are seeing increases in complaints 5+ miles away (we have removed outliers for the sake of integrity). Businesses that utilize the outdoor environment to serve their patrons are starting to get worried that this will not be resolved for Spring weather, specifically in the village of Fairport. The Northside/Dudley elementary school teachers and administrators are complaining of the odor seeping into their halls. Our kids should not have to deal with this.

The community needs the assurance of both the DEC and the Town of Perinton that this is at the top of the priority list. We should not be forced to spend countless hours compiling complaint data and making a case that our quality of life is compromised. People have lived in this community at the same location for 30+ years and have not had to deal with the landfill odor until more than a handful times a year until the last 6 months, when it has gotten out of hand. This is not only a handful of neighborhoods affected, it is a large swath of the Town and Village. There should be as close to a zero tolerance policy as possible when Landfills are located this close to a community as heavily populated as Perinton.

Six months ago WM emailed us that road construction over an old cell was causing the odor increase (June to September). Recently, they have told us it is infrastructure related (pipe clogs, vacuum issues). Others, including the DEC at a recent meeting, have reported that the trains coming in from NYC and other areas are sitting too long and cause odors when they are unsealed and dumped. Yet others have reported that the gas WM is required to run through the flare is too much for the flare(s) to handle, resulting in the gas being released.

I don't know exactly what the source of the odor is, and the community is concerned that WM and the DEC don't know either. It's an embarrassment that the DEC oversight has been insufficient and led to the current situation, and that the Town's contract is not more protective of it's residents. The communication coming out of both entities has also been less than ideal. People want to know that an investigation is open, what possible repercussions could be, and if the odor will be guaranteed to not come back more than 4-5 times per year. They also want to know that the expansion into Macedon will not result in future issues for Perinton residents.

Regarding the data attached, it is alarming. If more people affected knew about our FB group, the data would be astronomical. We are working to make that happen. The first few days of December data is showing at 3x the averages of November. The perception right now is that we are losing this town, it's identity, and many of the reasons we all love to live here. I'm almost at a loss that I even have to write this email and be involved to the extent I am. I run operations for a business based out of Tampa, FL, I am not a community activist and should not have to be dealing with this problem.

I will send the password separately and look forward to hearing from both of you.


DEC/Town Supervisor Correspondence

The following are Gary McNeil's notes from his correspondence with DEC/Town Supervisor on November 17th, 2017

I had some correspondence on Wednesday with the DEC and had a meeting with Supervisor Barker on Thursday. Some info for those interested:

DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation)

  • The Region 8 Director of the DEC Paul D'Amato confirmed that the High Acres site is having issues this year with the odor, and my contact with the DEC was not the first contact they had with the public about the issue.
  • WM has acknowledged there are issues at the site, and they are now required to attend a meeting at Mr. D'Amato's office in early December to describe the additional measures they have currently planned to address the odor, and when those measures will be fully implemented. The DEC staff will suggest further measures if they feel WMs plan is not sufficient.
  • In their experience there is no immediate "switch" that can be flipped to turn the odor off once a landfill starts to have odor issues. They first need to determine the source (gas vs operational), then address the cause.
  • He thinks that residents documenting the date, time, location, duration, and type of smell is helpful.
  • His team will be onsite more frequently to oversee corrective actions. He is open to meeting with me after the WM meeting in early December.

Supervisor Barker:

  • The town met with WM this week to ensure WM was proactively investigating the odor. Multiple town officials were at the meeting, including town counsel. The town plans to hold WM accountable to all clauses in the contract.
  • WM attributed their recent problems (this weeks horrific gas/garbage smells) to piping issues, but no additional details were provided.
  • WM did not tell the town they needed 6 months to fix the problem. They did not give a timeline like they did when Mike and I were there.
  • He is unaware of any active DEC investigation.
  • He has been contacted by FCSD officials as well as Senator Funke's office this week.
  • He is supportive of our efforts to track data, spread the word about how to log complaints with WM, and get concerned residents to the Conservation Board meeting that WM has to attend.
  • The Conservation Board meeting is tentatively scheduled for 1/16 at the Town Hall. They are moving it to room large enough to seat 200 people, give or take. The more people there, the better.
  • This year is 60/40 in terms of Macedon vs. Perinton waste disposal. Next year it will be 70/30, and it will continue to trend in that direction. As that happens, revenue from WM will decrease as a percentage of the Perinton budget, and will eventually be a flat fee.
  • On the other hand, Macedon will see an increase in revenue from their contract with WM. Macedon has approved the landfill hill on their side to reach 200 feet HIGHER than the Perinton side. While that will take many years, it is worth noting that the hill may eventually look awkward or tiered as it moves into the Macedon side.

My Thoughts:

  • There appears to be some coordination, or at least verification, between representatives to make sure they are all aware of the issue and putting pressure on WM to find resolution.
  • The DEC is taking action, but did they formally hold an investigation? Is it closed? Is it open? Do they plan on holding one? Are the findings public? Getting WM to present WM findings on what the odor is isn't enough in my opinion. The DEC should be doing an independent investigation into why the odor is occurring so frequently, and why it is so strong.The public should get to see those results. I will be visiting Avon in early December to ask these types of questions. We also need to know if the DEC is looking at the complaint log and if the WM complaint log is skewed. Does the DEC know the true extent of the problem?
  •  I expressed my concerns on the lack of transparency for the residents of Perinton. We don't know what's causing the issue, how serious it is, if it is feasible to fix, and if the fix will be permanent. This needs to be addressed by someone...whether it's WM information that is verified by the DEC, or the town, or the DEC itself.
  • The Conservation Board members are the ones that will advise Supervisor Barker on how to move forward in dealing with the issue. Showing up at the meeting on 1/16 and laying out our data/concerns will be very important in terms of helping them make their decisions.
  • With Macedon about to get more revenue than they will know what do with, and a less populated area to complain down the road once it turns into a PR problem for them, I think it may make sense to get in front of the Macedon Town Board and let them know what they are getting into. I'm not sure if anyone has reached out to the Macedon Supervisor yet, but if they are made aware now of what we are dealing with, they won't be able to say they had no clue in 10 years once they are dealing with the fallout of adding all the garbage on their side.

It's been a nice break having two days in a row with no odor in Magnolia. Hopefully that continues into the weekend and the holiday. Thanks to everyone who is helping with the fliers. Perinton is an older community and there are a lot of residents not on FB and not aware there is a way for their voice to be heard regarding this matter. I think what we are doing will help tremendously.

Waste Management On-Site Visit Notes

The following is provided by Gary McNeil after his on-site visit with Waste Management on November 9th, 2017. 

Michael Merlo and I visited WM this afternoon. I'm going to try and separate the information provided from my thoughts in the summary below. Information posted first, thoughts down below. We went there representing ourselves as concerned residents. I'm sure Mike will follow up with anything I left out.


    • WM is aware of the FB group and has people inside the group that are feeding them information. - The landfill is permitted to deposit 3500 tons/day. They currently take in about 3000 tons/day, which has been consistent for the last several years.
    • The state oversees the air quality requirements (DEC/EPA). WM brings in a third party called GHD Consulting to run air tests. The tests are scheduled ahead of time (not random) and are completed quarterly. WM pays for the service. We did not ask specifics on what is tested for. WM has never been cited for an air quality violation.
    • The DEC is the governing body when it comes to odor emanating from the landfill. WM does not have internal guidelines/policies related to acceptable levels of odor emanating from the landfill. The DEC does not provide WM guidance/policies describing acceptable levels of odor emanating from the landfill.
    • WM believes they have more vertical wells at the site than is required by law. They install/maintain the vertical wells 1-2 times per year, while the horizontal wells, of which there are much less, are an ongoing work in progress when it comes to installation and maintenance.
    • Approximately 3 weeks ago they installed 1 OdorBoss unit that "neutralizes" the odor. They are running a demo of the product. No plans were communicated on how this technology would be invested in once the demo is completed.
    • WaterBoss units are located around the premises utilizing "essential oil" type products to cover the odor. These are running 24/7.
    • WM spends $400k per year on falcons in order to keep Seagulls away.
    • Complaints made by residents are tracked BY COMPLAINT. Tess keeps a log of each complaint in a "database". As an example, I complained Tuesday night at 9:55pm, and Wednesday night at 10pm. That counts as two separate complaints in their log according to WM. It is not done by household.
    • According to WM, 90% of the time they dispatch an employee to confirm the complaint during business hours. - They would prefer phone calls to the 24/7 hotline, not emails.
    • The WM staff onsite and the DEC rep all have real time access to the complaint database.
    • The DEC rep (Dave) is onsite approximately every other day. His boss (Mark) is onsite a few times a month. The DEC office is located right across the hall from Tess's office and there is daily interaction regarding the complaints.
    • WM sees the DEC role as not telling WM what to do, but making sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing according to regulations, and that they are taking corrective action accordingly (when there is an issue).
    • The Conservation Board Town Meeting historically has been a simple meeting where WM presents operational data, permit updates, and a snapshot of the past year. Residents have not historically attended this meeting and there have been no issues at this meeting in the past.
    • The odor emanating from the landfill this summer was primarily due to road construction. There was a road that was on top of a cell that they decided to tear up. By tearing it up, it caused exposure to the inside of the cell for extended periods of time, resulting in the uptick of odor during those months.
    • The odor emanating from the landfill the past few nights/mornings was primarily due to a pipe situation related to clogs and subsequent remediation. The pipe infrastructure is old (25 years old in some areas).
    • WM has had operational issues in the last few months which has resulted in the uptick of odor occurrences. WM believes they can correct the operational issues within 6 months, if not sooner. The goal is to get back to historical odor occurrence rates that the community deemed tolerable. They feel they have a track record of 30+ years of being a good neighbor and can get back to that level.
    • Corporate WM is aware of the local site situation. There have been multiple meetings the last few weeks between the local management team and the corporate team. Cost is not an issue in correcting the issue.
    • The current mix of local waste vs. waste from outside the area is 50/50. Historically it has gotten to 70/30 both ways, and changes on a yearly basis, dependent on agreements and contracts.
    • Trains arrive nightly Sunday through Thursday. They are completely sealed when they arrive, as they are moved from the train to a truck, and as the truck transports the waste to it's final location. At that point the container is opened and dumped. The process of unloading trains goes on all day, everyday.
    • Per WM, NYC waste is not the cause of the uptick in odor in any way (during transport or make up of the waste).
    • There have been conversations between the town board and WM over the last few months in regards to the uptick in odor occurrences.
    • WM is responsible for the development of Perinton into what it is today. The aquatic center, trails, parks, and other town features were all part of the WM/Town agreement/relationship. The town has developed without the need for debt as a result of the relationship, and taxes are lower due to the relationship.
    • WM sees the town as a partner. There is a fire house onsite where the fire department runs drills. There is about to be a shooting range on site where FPD and Macedon PD will be able to practice.

    My personal thoughts:

    • I figured WM would be aware of this group and would have people in the group that provide them info. Makes no difference in my opinion. if you're the mole, congratulations, you've successfully gone under cover in a FB group. You should feel good about yourself.
    • No surprise they didn't provide details on what the actual problem is, although they did admit they have one. I can't verify anything that was told to me, so who knows if road construction caused summer issues and if aging pipes caused the issue from the last two nights. I'd almost rather have it be the NYC waste, which they are adamant is not the cause. At least there would be something definitive to point to. If it's aging infrastructure, how bad is it? Do they have a handle on it? Can it be corrected in 6 months (some of us have heard that story before)? How long has this been on their radar? What exactly does the town know about the inner workings of the pipes and what their lifespan is? All follow up questions for future meetings.
    • They claimed the complaints are logged and reported by actual complaint, not by household. We'll see once the actual report is obtained from the DEC or presented at the upcoming meeting.
    • My wife and I have complained many times the last 6 months and only once have they sent someone to check on the odor, so I'm not sure where the 90% dispatch rate came from.
    •  No surprise that there are no guidelines/policies on odors.
    • A few times it was mentioned that our complaints have gone out as far as Gananda and Penfield; WM feels those are false complaints caused by businesses around those residents. I think our data will support our own conclusions at the end of the day. If we have outliers, we can remove those locations.
    • They really pushed for phone calls, and not emails. I told them we don't trust they will track phone calls, and we will keep written records via email (and other methods).
    • I'm really conflicted about the fire house and the shooting range for the police department. I understand the use of the land, but it adds to the conflict of interest IMO.
    • Which side will the town take if the odor continues? Who knows...I'd like to keep my kids in the school system, live on the same side of town I grew up in, and retire in the house we moved to 2 years ago which has the best neighbors anyone can ask for (outside of WM). We fully expected 4-5 times per year, not 4-5 times per week of odor. My goal is to end the odor nuisance, nothing more, nothing less. WM wants to do business at that site for 30 more years. They are a $15 billion company that gets sued all the time (they made both those points very clear). There are a few different ways this can get resolved, time will tell which way this goes...

    Next Steps:

    • Continue to gather information, spread the word, stay engaged with this group, and attend upcoming meetings. The Town says they are aware and engaged, so (while participating) I will give them some time to see if they can come up with a solution. WM wants 6 months to fix their problem, whatever it is. Personally, and I hate to say this, but I don't trust either group at this point. They have a 30+ year relationship which has been mutually beneficial and most likely runs deeper than we'll ever know. Until the town takes tangible action, or WM makes the odor dissipate to something we are able to tolerate, I'll remain skeptical and keep all options on the table. They started the clock by asking for 6 months. If this situation doesn't get addressed then residents need to fend for themselves.
    • I'm going to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. This group should do the same IMO. That means staying engaged, attending meetings, making phone calls to representatives, sending email complaints, and making phone call complaints. I think we should continue to organize. - There may be residents that think media coverage can help at this point, or even legal representation. To each his own. Having met with both the Town and WM, and having read posts from very informed group members the last 2 days, I don't think I'm going to get involved in either of those two options at this point. I think there is more to play out over the next few months, so I'm going to try and stay patient.

    Thanks for everyone's effort so far, please keep it up. Living in this town is worth fighting for at this point. Sorry again for the long post...