By: Jacki Chamberlain, Adirondack Communities Advisory League
The key to a truly authentic grassroots group is the action word, volunteer. Citizens who care volunteer— in their communities, churches, schools, and for causes they believe in. These concerned individuals are rarely mentioned by name and are never paid for the hundreds of hours they donate in time, treasure and talent.
Adirondack Communities Advisory League (ACAL) is a truly authentic grassroots group consisting of 100% volunteers who, out of deep concern for the health, welfare and safety of their communities, organized in 1993 to stop a 1000-acre landfill from being constructed by a powerful Public Authority in the small rural town of Ava in Upstate New York. After numerous protests, environmental studies and lawsuits, lasting over a decade, ACAL lost the battle in 2004, when the State granted the Authority a landfill permit.
The group was heart broken and worn out when I joined them in 2004. Although I was born in the Boonville area, I had only lived there for two years and didn’t know much of ACAL’s history. I quickly discovered how hard these folks had fought to protect their homes and families: the weekly organization meetings for over eleven years, the numerous fund raising events, articles in the local newspapers, regular attendance at local town board meetings and community events, hundreds of letters written and sent, not to mention the hours spent doing research and learning about environmental law. I was awestruck not only by their dedication, but the passion and love these wonderful folks had for their community. It was the first time in my life I had ever witnessed people truly fighting to protect their homes. I was humbled in their presence … and inspired.
I chose to become involved in ACAL because I believed a landfill built in the middle of farm land, amid wetlands and adjoining the largest Veterans’ Memorial Forest in the State was a total and complete injustice. I helped reenergize and reorganize the group. We started a website and spent months organizing the entire history, chronologically, and put it online for all to read. And when landfill construction began in 2005, ACAL was there every step of the way—monitoring what we could and paying careful attention to Moose Creek, which bordered the landfill to the east.
In accordance with the provisions of the Clean Water Act, which permits citizens to enforce that law, ACAL filed a complaint against the Solid Waste Authority in 2006 for violating the Clean Water Act in 2005, when thousands of gallons of mud and debris flowed into Moose Creek during landfill construction. After three and a half long years of settlement negotiations, the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority agreed to settle the lawsuit with ACAL in December 2010. The settlement included a reimbursement payment by the Authority to ACAL in the amount of $65,000.00.
ACAL is planning to use the settlement funds to monitor the health of Moose Creek, create an environmental scholarship program, and continue its mission to preserve the environment in the Tug Hill Region through annual fund raising, community events, and continued partnerships with other environmental organizations.
ACAL has been privileged to share a partnership with Freshwater Future since 2007. The importance of developing relationships with organizations that share similar missions is vital in keeping grassroots groups strong and effective. Freshwater Future’s grant and mentor programs help volunteer groups like ACAL make victories possible. Seventeen years is a long time to work for a victory, but there is never a time limit when it comes to protecting citizens rights and working to keep communities safe and healthy. ACAL is proof that grassroots groups can make a difference!