Niagara Gazette

August 1, 2013

DEC oversight called into question as Covanta work comes before proper approval

Staff reports
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A trio of Niagara County residents have asked the head of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to “immediately halt” construction and order the dismantlement of a new smokestack and natural gas boiler at Covanta Niagara’s waste-to-energy facility off 56th Street in Niagara Falls.

Lewiston resident Amy Hope Witryol and Falls residents Chris Kudela and Shirley Hamilton sent a letter dated July 30 to DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, questioning his agency’s oversight of Covanta’s $30 million expansion project. 

The residents say Covanta has proceeded with the installation of the smokestack and boiler at its Falls facility even though the DEC has not granted it permission to do so. 

“Please act immediately to suspend all work on facilities which have not been permitted, and direct the applicant to dismantle them,” the letter reads. 

In an email sent out Wednesday afternoon, Jill Stueck, vice president of corporate communications for Covanta, confirms the company did start the work without DEC approval — but with the DEC’s “knowledge and concurrence.”

In an email response, Stueck said, “Covanta Niagara took on the risk of starting construction without an approved air permit with NYDEC’s knowledge and concurrence. We made this decision because the unit is critical in guaranteeing a reliable steam source to our customers, including the new GreenPac facility that will be fully operational in the near future. If we waited for the GreenPac facility to be fully operational before installing the new natural gas unit, we would be risking the success of our customer’s business and their investment (approximately $400 million). With that said, Covanta has absolutely no intention of starting the unit before the NYDEC permit is in place.”

Covanta’s expansion project involves the development of a rail transfer station that would allow the plant to accept hundreds of tons of garbage from New York City. The project proposal called for the installation of a new steam pipeline that would support operations at the neighboring Greenpac paper mill as well as a natural gas-fired boiler and a new waste handling facility to prepare incoming garbage for incineration.

According to the DEC, the company has submitted an application for a Title V permit renewal, with various updates to incorporate changes in regulatory requirements and interpretations and a major modification to allow installation and operation of the new steam expansion project. The deadline for submission of public comments on the application is Aug. 5. 

In their letter, the trio of residents reference a section of state regulations concerning “unpermitted emissions sources,” which prohibits “construction or operation” of a new, modified or existing air contamination source without a registration or permit. 

“It prohibits construction or operation, either one,” Witryol said. 

The letter indicates that when asked in an email dated May 10 whether Covanta can begin construction of the gas boiler (without operating it) in advance of permit removal, the DEC’s air and permitting staff did not respond. When asked again on July 18, the letter states that DEC indicated had “already provided several responses to the question.” The residents say they were not aware of any response. 

The letter notes that the proposed project is located in an “Environmental Justice Community” and questions the “adequacy and reliability” of air monitoring and pollution reduction for existing incinerators, noting that the last air dispersion model for Covanta’s existing waste incinerators was produced by the company’s predecessor in 1993, according to the DEC. 

“Please act immediately to suspend all work on facilities which have not been permitted and direct the applicant to dismantle them,” the letter reads. “Any fines collected we hope would support technical assistance for the Environmental Justice Community and affected areas.”  

Officials from the DEC did not respond to requests for comment about the residents’ letter on Wednesday.