All the public outcry and activism has finally paid off folks.......

Olean Times Herald
The 18-year fight over the proposed Farmersville landfill appears to be over.

On Wednesday, Cattaraugus County seized the 423-acre Farmersville site on Route 98 for nonpayment of back taxes and was awarded the deed to the property by Cattaraugus County Court Judge Larry M. Himelein.

Over the past three years, Integrated Waste Systems had failed to pay $359,984 in property taxes to the county, prompting the foreclosure action that started back in the fall, said County Attorney Dennis Tobolski.

The month before county officials quietly started foreclosure proceedings against IWS last October, company president William Heitzenrater reported that he wasn't seeking to sell the proposed landfill, but was seeking new investors. On Thursday, he declined to comment on future plans.

"We have issues we are dealing with," Mr. Heitzenrater said. "They (the county) taxed us as if we already had a landfill there."

The site was assessed at $2.5 million, he said.

The company reportedly spent more than $15 million seeking a landfill permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Cattaraugus County's cost of fighting the landfill over the years was closer to $500,000, of which the county received a state grant for about $300,000.

Lois Ann Zendarski, president of Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County - the grassroots group that fought the landfill proposal with money from bake sales and rummage sales - was delighted with the news.

"I remain cautiously optimistic that this is the end," she said. "However, we are eager to hear the County Legislature's final disposition on the land. We encourage the Farmersville Task Force to make recommendations to the legislators regarding the final fate of the land."

"It looks like it's our property now," Legislature Chairman Crystal Abers, R-South Dayton, said. "It will be up to the Legislature what we do with it. We don't have any plans at this point."

Legislator Jerry E. Burrell, R-Franklinville, whose district includes Farmersville, and who is also chairman of the Farmersville Task Force, said, "I'm very pleased the property is now in county hands. I'm glad to be able to close the chapter on this."

"It has been a long, ongoing process," he said. "There is no need for a rush to judgment about what to do with the property. We have options and time to consider those options. We could sell portions or not. Maybe it could be a park."

"It has been a long, ongoing process," he said. "There is no need for a rush to judgment about what to do with the property. We have options and time to consider those options. We could sell portions or not. Maybe it could be a park."

Several years ago, the Legislature considered taking the land through eminent domain proceedings to create a public park there.

Mr. Burrell commended the Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, which began fighting the landfill alone, and later joined the county's efforts to fight IWS' landfill application.

"They were persistent," he said. "They should be pleased."

"I'm sure some Farmersville town officials will be disappointed," he added.

The town had contracted with IWS, and would have received royalties of up to $3.50 per ton for up to 3,000 tons of waste a day.

County Attorney Tobolski said IWS, or Southern Tier Waste Systems, which acquired IWS in 1997, has "no legal right to get the property back."

IWS and its creditors were notified of the judgment on the property and no one came in with $359,984 to pay the back taxes, he said. The deadline was Saturday.

The Legislature typically allows a former owner of a foreclosed property to pay back taxes and penalties up to 15 days before a property is sold at auction and then conveys the title back to the former owner. The Legislature has made exceptions to that procedure in the past, Mr. Tobolski explained.

Michael Gerrard, an environmental attorney who heads the New York City Office of Arnold & Porter, was the architect of the legal and technical challenge to IWS' proposed landfill. Mr. Gerrard said Thursday he was pleased with the outcome.

"It was a terrible site from top to bottom," he said. "It was too steep. It had too much water under it. It had too many ecological features. The access was terrible. It was an utter turkey of a site."

Why did it take more than 15 years of legal to finally bury the proposed landfill?

"It was comatose for much of that time," Mr. Gerrard explained.

Little has happened since the last DEC hearings on the proposed landfill in Allegany and Machias in 1974.

"It was more like a zombie than a living, breathing proposal," Mr. Gerrard added. "This (15 years) is on the long side, but it is not unprecedented for projects to take so long to die."

"There were many county officials and citizen activists that played a central role in the fight against the landfill," he said. "They were extremely important to its ultimate defeat."

Farmersville Supervisor Fred Zuech did not return a telephone call seeking comment.