By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Members of the Niagara Falls Planning Board did not want to talk about rats at a special informational meeting held this week to discuss the expansion of a local waste-to-energy plant.
They heard about them anyway.
Ronda Grose, a city resident who lives next to the Covanta Niagara plant off 56th Street, insisted on speaking during Wednesday's planning board meeting about an increase in the rat population in her neighborhood. She and other neighbors attribute a recent uptick in rat sightings to waste trucks headed for the company's garbage incinerators, amongst other potential causes.
"You don't want to hear about rats, but I've got to talk about them anyway," Grose told planning board members.
Rick Smith, the board's chairman, interrupted Grose to remind her that the purpose of the informational meeting was to discuss the company's expansion project and not the rat issue, which the city is working with the company to resolve.
That's when City Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian stepped in to ask that the planning board hear her out.
"All these people are here to talk about rats and I think we should let them talk," he said.
Loud applause erupted from a group of residents in the crowd.
Smith agreed to let Grose continue but reminded her of the three minute time limitation for comments. He also asked others speaking on the issue not to repeat points touched on by other speakers.
Grose submitted a petition to the city council office last week with 248 signatures asking the city, Covanta and the state Department of Transportation to help the neighborhood deal with what they describe as an "infestation." The petition names an ongoing road reconstruction project along Buffalo Avenue as another possible cause for the spike in vermin.
Grose said Covanta has sent an exterminator to her house to leave traps, but more needs to be done.
"We need more help than that," Grose said. "Please help us out."
Kevin O'Neil, the business manager at Covanta, said he has been in contact with city officials and they are working to come up with a plan to tackle the problem.
"We've just made a commitment to the planning board members that we'll do what we can to help and we'll sit at the table with them to come up with a solution," he said.
O'Neil added that the plant's exterminator has visited four homes, but he will not be able to continuously visit the homes of people in the neighborhood and take care of issues at the plant.
"I can't do the whole neighborhood this way," he said. "It doesn't work. We've got to come up with a plan that will work for everybody."
A pair of state lawmakers on Thursday issued a joint statement saying they are working with officials from Covanta and representatives from various governmental entities, including the city, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Niagara County Health Department, in an effort to address the rat situation.
State Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, and state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said that while the causes of the conditions are unclear, they are attempting to help all parties involved come to a "long-term and permanent solution."
“People will not come to Niagara Falls if we have a rodent problem, which affects our economy," Ceretto said. "We have to find out why this is happening and fix it.”
“To solve this unusual rat problem we have to determine its root cause," Maziarz said. "One thing is for sure—Niagara Falls residents should not be the ones made to suffer and endure this infestation. We will continue to try to get to the bottom of this.”
Residents who are having problems with rats are encouraged to contact Ceretto’s office at 282-6062 or by email at email@example.com.Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257