By Justin Sondel firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Residents, company employees and politicians filed into city council chambers Wednesday night to hear a presentation from a waste-to-energy company on an expansion of their facilities and offer comment on the project.
The meeting was called by the city's planning board after residents raised concerns over the plant’s expansion plans and called on the board to revisit a negative declaration it approved earlier this year as part of a required state environmental review, clearing the way for the expansion.
Rick Smith, the planning board chairman, said that the meeting was informational and that the board was not considering any further action at this time.
The city will consider all information collected and provide that information to Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson, Smith said.
“The board has no pending action,” Smith said. “However, we will work with staff to bring all the information provided to us to the city corporation counsel and ask for his evaluation as to the city’s legal options going forward.”
While company representatives argued that the expansion project will be beneficial to the city — creating jobs and reducing the number of garbage trucks on city streets — most residents expressed concerns over possible health risks and the company’s 15-year tax abatement deal granted by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency in January.
Kevin O’Neil, the business manager at Covanta Niagara, gave the same presentation that was given at a planning board meeting before the board voted to approve the negative declaration on the state environmental review, adding updated information where necessary.
O’Neil outlined the plans, which include the reopening of a rail spur that will allow the company to accept garbage from New York City by rail, a brownfield remediation and storm water drainage improvements.
O’Neil emphasized that the plant expansion will not result in the incinerating of any more waste than the 821,000 they are permitted to burn each year by the Department of Environmental Conservation, the same amount that has been processed at the plant since it opened in 1980.
“The facility is not expanding its waste handling capability at all,” O’Neil said.
Throughout the two-hour meeting many speakers passionately stated their views on the project with most of the people speaking in favor of the project having ties to the company either through employment or a business relationship.
Most of those raising concerns over the project — their concerns were diverse and many — described themselves as residents or citizens.
Amy Hope Witryol, a Lewiston resident and retired financial sector executive who has researched environmental and public policy issues for years, has led the charge in a campaign to call into question many aspects of the company’s facility expansion. She has written letters to DEC officials, city hall staff and state agencies to express what she views as inconsistencies, misrepresentations from the company and possible illegalities surrounding the project.
Witryol reaffirmed those claims in her comments, taking nearly 20 minutes to innumerate the many ways she believes the project will have a negative impact on the region, most of which are either environmental or economic in nature.
“The planning board and DEC, from my view have both a legal and moral obligation to consider the bigger picture before sentencing LaSalle residents to another day or even another 30 years of incinerating garbage,” she said.
Witryol added the board would not be stopping the expansion or job creation by revisiting the negative declaration, but would create an opportunity for the city to get guarantees — and possibly more money — in exchange for bearing the burden of hosting the incinerator.
"No one is looking to close down Covanta or eliminate steam capacity to either local companies or National Grid," she said. "However, there are profitable alternatives to burning garbage that produce steam in ways more protective of public health and the financial interests of residents."
Dan Coraccio, vice president and regional business manager at Covanta Energy, the Niagara plant’s parent company, defended the company against accusations that it misrepresented facts in its application to the board.
“We want to reaffirm that the information that was submitted with the environmental assessment form is accurate and it is clear,” Coraccio said. “Any assertion to the contrary is simply wrong.”
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257