Niagara Gazette

January 8, 2013

EDITORIAL: More time needed on Covanta plan

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls-based Covanta Energy has applied for a 15-year tax break agreement through the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

Company officials and NCIDA representatives say the deal will allow the firm to push forward with a $30 million expansion of its plant off 56th Street, helping to retain and create jobs in a community desperate for them.

In addition, dozens of construction jobs would be created during the development of the expanded facility.

While the Falls is desperate for jobs of all types, NCIDA officials must make sure the interests of the city’s taxpayers are fully protected before they sign off an another lucrative, tax-break agreement.

In Covanta’s case, members of the public have rightly questioned the terms of the proposed incentive deal, job commitments made by the company as part of its application to the NCIDA and the potential environmental impacts of the project which would involve the delivery, by rail, of municipal waste by the ton from New York City.

Before the NCIDA’s board of directors takes a vote, we encourage agency officials to seek additional information and to exhaust all efforts to clarify items of significant community concern.

Based on the company’s own admissions, there seems to be no need to rush here.

Covanta representatives have offered no indication that the tax incentives are required for the expansion to move forward. While they have suggested that the project would help to protect jobs at the facility long term, they have also admitted that there is no immediate threat to existing positions if the deal is denied.

In other words, Covanta isn’t saying it won’t expand without the community’s help, nor are company officials saying the Falls plant will close if the deal isn’t done. 

There are key pieces of information still outstanding that would add to the public’s understanding of the potential benefits and ramifications of Covanta’s proposal. Vitally important is the disclosure of data related to potential impact on the local environment, including emissions and truck volume estimates for the expanded facility.

As they are stewards of community resources and taxpayer dollars, we strongly encourage the board of directors for the NCIDA to delay a formal vote on Covanta’s proposed incentive package to allow for additional fact finding.

We’re not saying the NCIDA shouldn’t help Covanta.

Like those community members who spoke during a recent public hearing, we would simply like more information — and more time to digest it — before a final vote is taken.

Niagara Falls is, unfortunately, littered with the remnants of projects approved in haste under the guise of bettering the community’s desperate economic condition.

Years and, in some cases, decades after those decisions were made, many of the city’s residents remain unemployed and the community as a whole is still starved for genuine signs of growth and opportunity.

It’s a new year. The time is now to start building a better future.

That requires sound, thoughtful decision-making by community leaders, including members of the NCIDA’s board, not only with this project, but with all others involving taxpayer support.