By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette —
The public will get its chance today to weigh in on a proposed tax break for a Niagara Falls company that specializes in generating steam energy by burning municipal and industrial waste.
There is already dissenting opinions on whether the tax break is a good thing or not.
The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency is considering granting Falls-based Covanta Energy a 15-year Payment-in-Leiu-of-Taxes, or PILOT, agreement, pending comments from a public hearing scheduled for 3:45 p.m. today at city hall.
Covanta officials have told the NCIDA the company plans to spend $30 million to allow it to take deliveries of waste by rail — primarily from New York City — to build a natural gas furnace used as a backup for waste incinerators and to build a steam expansion line.
Covanta will supply the nearby Greenpac facility, a new liner board factory to be operated by Normpac Inc., with steam energy through a mile-long pipeline that would run between the two facilities.
Company officials say the expansion will lead to the creation of 23 new, full-time jobs, while allowing Covanta to retain the 86 employees that already work at the plant off 56th Street. The project would create 160 construction jobs, according to the company's application for the PILOT.
James Regan, a spokesman for Covanta Energy, said the expansion would not mean that the company would burn more garbage, but would allow the company to more consistently fulfill its contracts.
"That infrastructure would ensure that reliable supply of fuel so that we can supply steam for our customers," Regan said.
Henry Sloma, the president of the NCIDA, has endorsed the project, saying that it will bring more jobs to the area while turning waste into energy.
"I'd rather see garbage turned into energy than end up in a landfill," Sloma said.
But not everyone feels the tax break will benefit the community. Amy Hope Witryol, a former state senate candidate and retired bank executive from Lewiston who has worked on environmental issues in the area for more than a decade, said the company would be expanding regardless of whether they were granted the tax break or not.
"This creates value for Covanta, not taxpayers." Witryol said.
Witryol said that the NCIDA is not only giving a tax break to a company that does not need one, but a company that puts toxins into the air.
"If we're giving a company financial incentives we want to be giving them incentives to make this a better and safer community," she said.
Mayor Paul Dyster said he sees the company's expansion as a "net gain," so long as a few key provisions to the PILOT agreement are enforced.
Dyster wants to make sure the company is held to the clause in the PILOT requiring it to make efforts to hire locally for both the permanent and construction jobs.
"We treat that seriously and want to make sure that it's followed," he said.
Dyster said that, although the city is not giving out the tax break, the city is a stakeholder and wants to be certain the community gets more than it gives up in tax revenues.
"The principals, generally speaking, want to make sure that the added value for the community is worth the tax abatement," Dyster said.
Dyster said the move to shipping in the waste using rail will also benefit the community by reducing the number of trucks driving to the facility and the amount of time those trucks spend idling at international crossings making for traffic congestion.
"We want to encourage the use of rail," Dyster said.mug of Witryol, Amy Amy Witryol Disagrees with PILOT