Niagara Gazette

August 1, 2013

Covanta issued a notice of violation by DEC for smokestack, gas boiler work

Staff reports
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a notice of violation in regards to Covanta's installation of a smokestack and natural gas boiler without having an approved air permit in place. 

While Thursday's letter states DEC officials have known of the construction since May 13, the notice of violation comes a day after a Covanta spokesperson admitted in a Gazette report that work commenced at the site without proper permitting.

The DEC is now "reviewing its options" in how it handles the violation.

In the certified letter sent to Covanta Niagara officials and released to the press, the DEC states it is "reviewing its options regarding the appropriate enforcement actions, including assessment of penalties, fines and injunctive relief for the violations that have already occurred." The letter further states that Covanta's failure to immediately comply could result in larger penalties.

The DEC letter follows the revelation earlier this week that Covanta Niagara, LLC started the installation of a smokestack and natural gas boiler at its waste incineration facility off 56th Street without having an approved permit from the DEC. 

Lewiston resident Amy Hope Witryol and Niagara Falls residents Chris Kudela and Shirley Hamilton sent a letter to DEC Director Joseph Martens on July 30, encouraging his office to "immediately halt" the project and order dismantlement of both pieces of equipment. 

All three argued that the company's decision to move ahead with the work without approval from the DEC for its air permit violated an existing statute that bars "construction or operation of a new, modified or existing air contamination source without a registration or permit." 

A spokesperson for Covanta conceded Wednesday that the company did indeed start the work without DEC approval, but suggested it was done with the agency's "knowledge and concurrence." The spokesperson said the company started construction without an approved air permit because the new unit was "critical" in guaranteeing a reliable steam source to Covanta's customers, including the nearby Greenpac liner board paper manufacturing facility. The spokesperson also indicated that the company had "absolutely no intention" of starting the unit before the DEC permit is in place.

Thursday's letter from the DEC appears to back up Covanta's claim that the DEC know construction was happening. The DEC's letter states that "Construction commencement (of new gas-fired boiler system) was documented in a DEC Bi-Weekly Monitoring Report dated May 13, 2013."

If imposed, Covanta could face a fine of up to $18,000 plus an additional penalty not to exceed $15,000 for each day that the violation continues. Failure to comply with Thursday's letter could also result in criminal charges, the letter states.

Leading up the release of Thursday's letter, DEC officials weren't saying much on the subject.

In response to requests for comment this week, Peter Constantakes, acting director of public information for the DEC, said the agency was limited it what it could say about the situation at this time due to the status of the project. 

The DEC is still in the process of reviewing the firm's application for a Title V permit renewal, with various updates to incorporate changes in regulatory requirements and interpretations to allow installation and operation of the new steam expansion project. The deadline for submission of public comments is Monday.