Second email to the DEC, Town of Perinton and Senator Funke

The following is an email from Gary McNeil to the DEC, Town of Perinton and Senator Funke on January 4th, 2018. 


I'm sure you are all aware of the attached newsletter that WM sent out last night. At approximately 9pm on Tuesday 1/2/18 many residents experienced a 10-15 minute long event at their homes. The event consisted of vibrating, rattling, and shaking houses and walls. We experienced it ourselves, and took a video during the occurrence. At first we thought it was frozen pipes about to burst, and then we thought it was related to our furnace. It was pretty scary feeling, and lasted quite a long time. Once it passed (and nothing exploded in our house), a member of our FB group messaged me that her and her neighbors experienced the same phenomena, and she asked me if it could be related to the landfill. Keep in mind she lives on the south side of the landfill, and we live on the north side. Once we realized this event was not isolated to our house, we contacted our neighbors in Magnolia and they all reported the same experience. At that point we remembered some articles we came across when researching landfills that described a few landfills in the country causing tremors for miles due to flare/gas malfunctions. I still thought it was a reach, but figured I should follow up once my wife saw many people writing about the occurrence in the Fairport Families FB group. So the next morning I sent an email to both WM and the Egypt Fire Department. 

I have still yet to hear back directly from Jeff Richardson or the Egypt Fire Department, but WM confirmed our fears last night in their newsletter. Obviously this is quite a shock to the community. Not only are we dealing with 70% of our days filled with noxious gas odors (still), but now we have tremors that lasted almost 15 minutes. The reasons that are provided in the newsletter are laughable. WM is essentially saying that their infrastructure cannot handle the cold weather, just like it couldn't handle the rainy weather from the summer. One can conclude that the site is not able to operate in the Rochester climate at this point, at least not at the 3500 ton per day intake level that they achieved once the rail was implemented. 

We've had multiple people in our group contend that the tremors from Tuesday night were not the first time that happened. They are saying that it's happened a few times since the fall, mostly during the late morning hours. I cannot confirm what they are saying, but I have no reason to doubt them, especially since some of them are claiming guests and housekeepers brought it to their attention. If their stories are true, I urge you to pressure WM into confirming or denying their power plant and flare had issues over the last 6 months similar to what happened Tuesday evening, even if it was a lesser magnitude event. The community deserves to know, and I doubt they are going to respond to any inquiry I make.

Lastly, it seems more and more people are stepping forward with air quality concerns, especially after seeing the rail application from 2013 that Macedon sponsored, which indicated air quality would worsen due to increased intake, but would be offset by "proposed beneficial reuse". It's very obvious that the infrastructure could not handle going from 1500 tons per day to 3500 tons per day, which is what happened once the rail started operation. The additional gas created by the waste (and spurred by weather according to WM), is not manageable. The DEC should restrict intake to a more manageable level, immediately. When the flare is not working, those really harmful gasses are being released into the atmosphere, and all our families are breathing them in. It comes into our houses, schools, and businesses. Recent remediation efforts almost mirror verbatim the remediation efforts that took place in 2011 and 2012. Shouldn't "newer methods" of gas collection already be implemented proactively? Shouldn't this site have already been setup to handle the increased tonnage per day when the rail opened? We have been dealing with this since September. This community is not going to wait until May for resolution, especially with air quality concerns that are ongoing. 

We don't know whether to put our house up for sale and pull our kids out of their school, engage with local lawyers that are urging us to do so, wait for the DEC to actually act, or wait for the Town to possibly sue once the 6 month timeline is up. I don't like the feeling of knowing gasses are entering my house, and I don't like the feeling of my house shaking for 15 minutes due to tremors. The entire community shares these concerns. We moved back here in 2012 after 10 years in Tampa, primarily so our kids could enjoy the community benefits that we did while growing up. It's hard to believe a business could have this sort of impact on this town, and apparently enough leverage to get away with it.


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.