Niagara Gazette

December 28, 2012

GUEST VIEW: Covanta railroading Falls residents?

By Amy Witryol
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — In the past, Niagara Falls residents have been deprived of influence over their city’s destiny by flawed agreements. Among them, Niagara Falls Redevelopment and casino gaming contracts.

Now, some local officials would welcome rail shipments of New York City waste to the city of Niagara Falls.

On Dec. 12, the city approved rail access to Covanta’s incineration operation. This approval becomes final if the New York State Deptartment of Environmental Conservation also approves rail access.

Only Covanta’s Newark, N.J. incineration of New York City garbage rivals what is proposed for Niagara Falls.

Is the potential of becoming New York City’s garbage destination an issue important enough for residents to understand? Before that door opens, instead of after?

More Than Our

Share of Waste:

Niagara County is already the No. 1 destination for waste disposal in New York.

Covanta Niagara is currently the second largest waste incineration facility of ten operating in New York state. It can burn up to 825,000 tons of waste each year.

Despite corporate-wide performance of 10 percent, last year, a whopping 23 percent or 186,000 tons of the medical, industrial and municipal waste burned at Covanta Niagara was buried in Niagara Falls and Lewiston landfills.

Rail access would bring us waste from much longer distances, drive up our own disposal costs, and further an already dismal recycling rate in New York City that is half the national average.

Covanta already operates landfills and transfer stations throughout the Northeast, that if ever permitted here, would bring thousands more trucks.

IDA Hearing,

Jan. 4 at City Hall

Covanta has applied to the Niagara County IDA for an $8 million 15-year tax break essentially for three projects:

Project No. 1: Rail access. Absent substantiating numbers, Covanta asserts that New York City garbage by rail will replace Toronto garbage coming here by truck. However, Toronto trucks will decline, regardless, due to a new Covanta incinerator in Ontario.

There is no known agreement to reduce truck traffic, though that is reportedly the basis of city approval for rail.

Project No. 2: A new 190-foot high smoke stack with a new gas-fired burner and pipeline to add steam generation for the new Greenpac paper mill. Rail is not required to supply either Greenpac or current customers.

Project No. 3: A “special waste” processing facility. What is, “special waste?” 

Show us the numbers

The IDA has not produced evidence that Covanta would rely on tax breaks for these projects.

The promises we’ve read about in the papers are not attached to numbers or commitments in Covanta’s applications.

Press quotes from the company spokesman are also contradicted by its regulatory reports.

To what extent are taxpayers funding companies that deplete or depress our assets? That recipe has already led us to the rank of worst in the nation for property taxes-to-value.

Who’s in control?

The New York State DEC has sole authority over a variety of other Covanta permits. Company-requested permit modifications for this project were not even published ahead of local approvals.

Questionable information surrounding the company’s local applications makes it important for DEC to conduct real public hearings for Covanta permitting in the next few months.

In contrast to other municipalities, we’re told there is no agreement from Covanta that would require any Niagara Falls concurrence with future waste volumes, truck traffic, or mix of waste actually burned (as opposed to “permitted.”)

If given the choice between ruling for Niagara Falls, or ruling for New York City, which would the state favor? That’s why a formal agreement between the City and the operator seems imperative.

There remain some opportunities to negotiate protections while maintaining proposed construction and permanent jobs. But it will take political courage, collaboration and effort. I hope we have it.

Amy H. Witryol is a Lewiston resident